Texas Man Sentenced to Prison for Federal Clean Water Act Violations

A federal court in Louisiana sentenced a Texas man to five years in prison for allegedly dumping wastewater in violation of federal law at a facility in Shreveport. A jury convicted him in March 2012 on all five counts from the government’s indictment, which included conspiracy, obstruction, and three violations of the federal Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. § 1251 et seq. (CWA). United States v. Tuma, No. 5:11-cr-00031, indictment (W.D. La., Feb. 24, 2011). While the CWA is mostly known for establishing permitting requirements and other regulations, it also prescribes criminal penalties for negligent or knowing violations of certain provisions, and allows the state to prosecute a “responsible corporate officer” for acts of a corporation. 33 U.S.C. § 1319(c)(6).

The defendant, John Tuma, who resided in Centerville, Texas, was the president of Arkla Disposal Services, Inc. He also acted as general manager of Arkla’s wastewater treatment facility in Shreveport, Louisiana, which had been in operation since 2003. Tuma’s son, Cody Tuma, worked as a supervisor and plant operator, and was also a defendant in the case. The facility received and treated wastewater from oil and gas exploration companies, and had a permit from the City of Shreveport to discharge wastewater to a city-owned water treatment facility. The wastewater discharged by the Arkla facility had to meet specified standards such as pH and suspended solids.

According to the government’s indictment, the defendants discharged untreated wastewater from the Arkla facility directly into the Red River beginning in approximately July 2006 and continuing until at least October 2007, in amounts exceeding 200,000 gallons per day. The indictment stated five counts against both defendants. The conspiracy charge under 18 U.S.C. § 371 encompassed the other alleged offenses, alleging that the defendants acted together in order to receive more wastewater, and therefore more revenue, from customers, and to conceal the facility’s failure to handle wastewater properly from regulators. Id. at 6. The obstruction charge under 18 U.S.C. § 1505 accused the defendants of various acts designed to impede oversight by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The three remaining charges alleged felony CWA violations under 33 U.S.C. §§ 1311(a) and 1319(c)(2)(a) for the knowing and unlawful discharge of pollutants.

In February 2012, Cody Tuma pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of negligent discharge of pollutants without a permit. A jury convicted John Tuma on all five of the original counts in March 2012. John Tuma received a sentence of five years’ imprisonment followed by three years’ supervision, and a fine of $100,000. In a memorandum dated December 5, 2012 explaining the decision to impose the maximum sentence allowed by law, the court noted that the violations were ongoing, involved an abuse of trust, and caused significant cleanup costs. It rejected the defendant’s request for downward adjustments in the sentence because of a lack of evidence of lasting environmental harm, finding that this was not an element the government must prove. The court issued a separate memorandum at the same time denying a request from an alleged victim for restitution from the defendant, finding that questions of causation were too complicated to allow a finding that the defendant’s acts proximately caused the victim’s alleged damages.

Board-certified criminal defense attorney Michael J. Brown fights for the constitutional and procedural rights of Texas defendants. He has worked as an FBI agent and a federal prosecutor, and has practiced criminal defense in west Texas for more than two decades. Contact us today online or at (432) 687-5157 to learn more about how we can assist you in your legal matter.

Web Resources:

Cause No. 5:11-cr-00031, United States v. Tuma, U.S. District Court, Western District of Louisiana (PACER registration required)

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