New SCWW charges include conspiracy, withholding info of public danger

March 25, 2016
Santa Paula News

New charges were filed against four Santa Clara Waste Water - Green Compass officials as well as the business entities for a variety of alleged offenses, ranging from handling hazardous waste causing unreasonable risk and withholding information regarding a substantial danger to public safety to conspiracy and beyond.  

District Attorney Greg Totten announced the new charges March 23 after the businesses along with Chairman Douglas Edwards, CEO William Mitzel, Assistant General Manager Marlene Faltemier and Vice President Charles Mundy were named in an indictment issued by a Grand Jury late last week.

The companies and the four officials were charged with handling hazardous waste causing unreasonable risk, disposal of hazardous waste, failure to update business plan, failure to update hazardous material inventory, withholding information regarding a substantial danger to public safety, submission of false statements, interference of enforcement and conspiracy. 

Totten’s statement noted that, “by proceeding via indictment, no preliminary hearing will be held and all charges currently pending may be consolidated and set for jury trial.”

Prosecutors said the alleged charges stem from a search by District Attorney investigators on November 5 at the SCWW facility west of Santa Paula. 

Investigators had been tipped off that the company was allegedly storing hazardous materials in a storage trailer; what they allegedly found was more than 5,000 gallons of a highly corrosive chemical that the company had not previously reported to county environmental regulators as required by law.

During the search it was reported that one person received a burn injury from coming into contact with the material, identified by prosecutors as Saxon 10-81/Petromax, which they described as a corrosive chemical cleaning agent.

The allegations in the indictment replace those claimed in a felony complaint filed December 11 against the businesses, Mitzel and Faltemier, which was based on the same search. 

New evidence led to the indictments of Edwards and Mundy, according to Senior Deputy District Attorney Karen Wold.

The four as well as other SCWW-GC officials and the businesses are facing a 71-count indictment issued in August. Now, by proceeding with the new case via indictment, prosecutors may be able to get the charges consolidated with the earlier case stemming from the November 2014 explosions at the facility that left dozens injured some seriously. 

SCWW workers and an employee of Patriot Environmental Services as well as three Santa Paula firefighters were among those seriously injured, the latter due to exposure to unknown chemicals. 

Santa Paula’s first responders told the Grand Jury SCWW employees told them there was no danger from the spilled materials.

Ventura County declared a state of emergency due to the incident that led to evacuations, fires and the creation of an Incident Command Post that for more than a month filled the Kmart parking lot with mobile units from county, state and federal agencies dealing with the investigation and the cleanup of the site. 

District Attorney Investigators found that the private contractor charged with the cleanup, again Patriot Environmental Services, had been negotiating to purchase the facility at the time of the explosion. Patriot has reportedly made another move to purchase SCWW, which has branches in other areas of the state.  

The plant, located at 815 Mission Rock Road, has been closed since the explosion except for cleanup activities, but the facility’s permit has been suspended, not revoked.

Defense lawyers for all the defendants still facing trial — two employees pleaded guilty and are awaiting separate court dates — claim that the initial explosion at SCWW was simply an industrial accident and not an incident that prosecutors claim stemmed from a host of alleged illegal activities. 

All defendants remain free on bail as previously set by the court with a court date scheduled for April.

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