Businessman indicted in sewer contamination
The owner of a Baton Rouge business accepted $371,000 to dump more than 6.3 million gallons of unpermitted, untreated or undertreated industrial wastes into the city-parish sewer system, according to a federal indictment.
Roger J. Dies, owner and operator of Baton Rouge Tank Wash, is alleged to have pumped those poisons into drains at the company’s main facility in the 4400 block of Plank Road between March 2009 and September 2012.
Dies is accused of making two felony false statements to government investigators and creating three sets of false documents related to disposal of the wastes. Dies also is accused of witness tampering, obstruction of justice, a felony violation of the Clean Water Act and four misdemeanor violations of the Clean Water Act.
Alleged to have underreported the volume of his discharges to skirt city-parish restrictions, Dies also avoided payment of more than $24,600 in sewer-user fees, according to the grand jury.
One of the men alleged to have paid Dies to accept the secret shipments of industrial wastes has already pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge in a separate environmental crime involving an injection well in Assumption Parish. The indictment states that a phone conversation between Dies and that man was recorded by government investigators.
The 55-year-old Dies, a Zachary resident, could not be located for comment Tuesday. The attorney who represented Dies at a preliminary hearing Friday did not respond Tuesday to email, cellphone and office phone requests for comment.
All of the Plank Road facility’s wastewater flows to the city-parish’s North Wastewater Treatment Plant, 50 Woodpecker St., according to the indictment obtained by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Corey R. Amundson and Alan A. Stevens.
And Baton Rouge Tank Wash was permitted to discharge water it used to wash out truck tanks. That permit, according to the indictment, placed limits on “levels of contamination and toxicity to ensure that the wastewater would not damage the municipal sewer system or impermissibly contaminate the system or the Mississippi River.”
Baton Rouge Tank Wash also was required to treat its permitted wastewater to limit levels of arsenic, nickel, chemical oxygen demand, biological oxygen demand and total suspended solids, according to the indictment.
“Untreated or inadequately treated wastewater could disrupt the municipal sewer system and cause the release of wastewater containing high amounts of toxins and other dangerous material into the system and the Mississippi River,” the indictment notes.
Dies knew his firm’s discharged wastewater routinely exceeded city-parish limits, according to the indictment, and he was not allowed to accept tankloads of industrial wastes to dump into the sewer system without prior city-parish authorization.
In 2011, the indictment alleges, Department of Public Works employees repeatedly discovered discharges from Baton Rouge Tank Wash that exceeded, sometimes by a factor of 10, permit limits for toxins and other contaminants.
In March of that year, DPW shut down all discharges from Dies’ firm. In July, according to the indictment, Dies received DPW permission to resume operations, but he is alleged to have “continued to conceal the existence and extent of the third-party wastewater discharged into the municipal sewer system from the Plank Road facility.”
In February 2012, Dies’ firm “emitted chemical fumes resulting in odor and medical complaints by individuals in the (Plank Road) area, including two employees of the Baton Rouge Police Department who were overcome by fumes.” The indictment says a responding inspector with (the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality) reported similar symptoms, and others complained of “dizziness, nausea, light-headedness and headaches.”
But neither the DEQ nor the hazardous materials unit of the Louisiana State Police were able “to identify the chemical compound responsible for the incident,” the indictment states.
DPW again ordered Dies’ firm to cease washing out truck tanks, but allowed those operations to resume the next month.
Facing increased DPW demands for reductions in toxins and other contaminants, the indictment alleges, Dies contacted one of his industrial-waste suppliers — Raymond Marcel Jr., Berwick owner of a wastewater brokerage in Morgan City.
The two men are alleged to have agreed to fabricate false records indicating that tanker trucks sent by Marcel’s firm to Plank Road were empty vessels that would simply be washed out by Dies’ employees.
A similar conversation took place between the two men in December 2012, but the indictment says that conversation was recorded by law enforcement with the permission of Marcel.
In June of this year, Marcel, 60, and brokerage partner Cyril D. Robicheaux, 53, of Morgan City, pleaded guilty in Baton Rouge to a charge of conspiracy to defraud the EPA and violate the Safe Drinking Water Act. They admitted to participation in a scheme that sent unauthorized industrial wastes down an injection well near Belle River in Assumption Parish.
Neither Marcel nor Robicheaux has been sentenced in that case. On Tuesday, neither man’s court file included a date for sentencing.
The owners of the injection well near Belle River were not aware of that scheme, federal prosecutors have publicly stated.