I recently read that the first woman on the Environmental Protection Agency’s fugitives list was captured in the Dominican Republic and is now in custody awaiting extradition to the United States. And I thought: Who knew there were “wanted” posters for environmental criminals?
The EPA Fugitives list, created two years ago, identifies those sought by the agency’s Criminal Investigation Division. The list includes mug shots, brief case summaries and instructions on how to report information related to a fugitive’s identity.
Charges include the illegal smuggling of ozone depleting contraband; illegal transportation, storage and disposal of mercury contaminated soil; illegally importing cars that didn’t meet U.S. emissions standards; and illegal dumping of oil. Albania Deleon, for example, was convicted in Massachusetts for issuing hundreds of fraudulent training certificates from her certified asbestos training school. She fled the state two days before her sentencing in 2009 and was captured October 30, 2010.
To learn more about the fugitives list, I spoke with Daniel Horgan, acting director of the EPA’s Criminal Investigations Division. Excerpts of our conversation are below.
The EPA fugitives list was started in 2008. Was there one particular thing that convinced the agency of the need for such a list?
I think leading up to that period of time, we had a number of the subjects of our investigations who had become fugitives, so they were actually gone for extended periods of time. So we were aware of that from our own internal tracking process. After a couple apprehensions, it was discussed that it might be a good idea to establish a listing of fugitives. As we started to compile it, we noticed, when you put it all in one place, there was quite an assemblage.
Is it modeled after another agency’s fugitive’s list?
As we were designing it, we looked at a number of different agencies’ lists. Unlike the FBI, it’s not the 10 most wanted. We don’t rank them. It’s just a notification to the public that in our line of work we do have individuals who are at large, who we’re interested in locating .
When you say someone’s a fugitive, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve left the country; it just means they’re not where they’re supposed to be?
That’s right. They have been summoned to the court for a particular purpose—to answer charges, to stand trial or to be sentenced. So they’ve been officially notified of a legal proceeding they’ve been summoned to and they determined that they are not going to make that appearance.
So when they decide not to show up, we don’t really know where they are; they could just be someplace else. For example, Larkin Baggett [whose company allegedly dumped hazardous waste, without a permit, violating the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act; he was taken into custody in 2009] was found in the U.S.
And with the recent capture of Albania Deleon, what was involved in tracking her down?
Even though we don’t know an individual has left the United States, once a person is at large, or wanted, there is a process with the U.S. Attorneys Office to file certain forms with the Department of Justice and Interpol. Interpol will issue what is known as a Red Notice with an individual , so if they try to enter or leave the country with a passport, the agency interested in them would be notified.
In this particular case, we were notified that she was suspected of residing in the Dominican Republic, and efforts were undertaken to make the necessary international connections to have her arrested and returned to the United States. I believe she will be re-sentenced sometime in December.
What are the reasons people end up on your list?
We’re only interested in those people who are associated with criminally violating environmental statutes. It can include a lot of traditional criminal behavior. It doesn’t have to just be the illegal disposal of hazardous waste, but can include things such as money laundering and falsifying statements.
From your website, it looks like there are 16 on the list today. Even a former CEO?
Environmental crimes tend to be pigeonholed into what is thought of as white collar crimes. Often they are corporate crimes, but it’s a very broad-based type of crime. I guess if there was any type of way to characterize them, I would say it is more of an economic crime. It could be smaller companies in the early days of environmental crimes and investigation–companies that were illegally disposing of their waste. But as the program became more sophisticated, we were able to look at other types of environmental violations.
Tell me about your staff. Do they wear badges and carry guns?
We are full federal law enforcement individuals. We carry badges and guns, make arrests and execute search warrants. We currently we have approximately 210 agents nationwide.
Are they looking for crimes being committed or out looking or fugitives?
We don’t have a staff that actively pursues the fugitives. We wait for information to come back from a sighting. And once we receive information we undertake appropriate efforts to locate the individual and address it in a legal manner.
The working agents that are out there are located out of 10 area offices that are associated with the EPA regional offices. These agents are receiving information through the various avenues, which could be tips and complaints from the communities. Or it could be tips from other environmental agencies or public health agencies where people are going out and making inspections and contacting us about particularly egregious situations or suspected criminal behavior. And then the agents move forward with search warrants, undercover activities, sometimes surveillance. An awful lot of it includes documentation and interviewing witnesses.
How many prosecutions are there per year?
During fiscal year 2010, 198 defendants either pled guilty or were sentenced. During the same year, 289 were charged. Of the 289 cases, 87 percent included charges against at least one individual defendant, as opposed to a business or corporation. The charging of individuals, where warranted by the evidence, is important because the possibility of being sentenced to jail for an environmental crime provides significant deterrent effect.
What are some unusual or bizarre cases you’ve seen?
We do undertake the investigations for the protection of hazardous waste laws [Resource Conservation and Recovery Act], the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, in some cases, Superfund. They all have unique aspects to them. If you look at some of the cases we undertake, it stretches from the BP Alaska case from a couple years ago to situations like what Albania Deleon was convicted of—the issuance of false certificates that would allow individuals, primarily undocumented aliens, to work in a dangerous area with asbestos removal.
The other important aspect is that these are public health crimes. Really, how these things impact our communities are really the primary focus of the work we do.
In your opinion, are environmental criminals different than other run-of-the-mill criminals?
I think the impact on the community is an important component of an environmental criminal. The violations of an environmental crime can impact a large number of people without their really knowing it.
I remember Ira Reiner, who in the ‘80s was the District Attorney in Los Angeles and was an early proponent of prosecuting environmental crimes. He often referred to them as assaults. He said the only difference between an environmental assault and an assault on the street was that with an environmental assault you might not know you’ve been hit on the head for some time in the future. I think that’s one of the great issues related to our types of cases. If someone is falsifying discharge monitoring reports, and they’re falsifying the amounts of pollutants going into a waterway, that has the potential to impact a lot of people.