23 November 2004 – LAWFUEL – Law, legal, law firm news – Marcos Daniel Jiménez, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida;
Thomas L. Sansonetti, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s
Environment and Natural Resources Division; and Jonathan Sall, Special Agent in
Charge, United States Coast Guard Investigative Service, SE Region, today announced
that defendant, Rick D. Stickle, Chairman and CEO of Sabine Transportation, Inc., a
Cedar Rapids, Iowa based company, was convicted by a federal jury in a trial before
United States District Court Judge Alan S. Gold, in Miami, Florida, for his role in
the overboard dumping of part of an oil-contaminated grain cargo from the S. S.
Juneau, a U.S. flag vessel, into the waters of the South China Sea in early
February, 1999 and his efforts to impede the United States Coast Guard and other
authorities from learning of the illegal conduct.
Specifically, Stickle was convicted of engaging in a multi-purpose conspiracy to
illegally discharge the oil contaminated grain at sea; of obstructing a proceeding
initiated by the United States Coast Guard by presenting the Coast Guard false and
misleading statements and records; and of defrauding the United States by hampering
and impeding the Coast Guard and the Department of Agriculture in their efforts to
enforce environmental laws and the laws and regulations governing the carriage and
delivery of donated agricultural commodities.
Stickle’s sentencing hearing is set before Judge Gold on February 9, 2005 at 4:30
p.m. Each count carries a maximum statutory sentence of five (5) years’
imprisonment and a fine of the greater of $250,000 per count or twice the gain or
loss caused by the relevant conduct.
Other senior Sabine employees, Michael R. Reeve, President of Sabine, Michael M.
Krider, Port Engineer, George K. McKay, Master of the S. S. Juneau, and Philip J.
Hitchens, Chief Officer of the S. S.Junea, previously convicted for their
involvement in the in the scheme, based on their guilty pleas.
“This prosecution reflects the commitment of this Office to hold accountable
unscrupulous operators who choose profits over the legal use of the world’s
resources,” said Mr. Jiménez.
“Today’s verdict reflects the Department’s commitment to prosecute those who do not
act in accordance with the law,” said Mr. Sansonetti. “From the ship operators to
the corporate executives in the boardroom, all corporate officials will be held
accountable for breaking the nation’s environmental laws by dumping wastes into our
waters and on the high seas.”
“The oceans are irreplaceable and must be protected,” said Thomas V. Skinner,
Acting Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance,
Environmental Protection Agency. “This prosecution sends a clear message that those
who violate the law and pollute our waters, including senior corporate officials,
will be vigorously prosecuted.”
The government’s investigation began when the S. S. Juneau arrived in Portland,
Oregon at the end of a voyage to Bangladesh carrying a cargo arranged and funded by
the U.S. Department of Agriculture and administered by C.A.R.E. Crew members
alerted a Coast Guard inspector that a diesel oil leak into one of the S.S.
Juneau’s main cargo tanks was discovered while a humanitarian shipment of grain was
being off-loaded in Bangladesh in December of 1998. According to information
provided, approximately 442 metric tons of wheat became saturated with the oil and
could not be off-loaded.
Subsequently, as alleged, company officials intentionally mislead Coast Guard
officers in Singapore and Portland by failing to disclose the true nature of the
contaminated residue while seeking authorization to discharge the residue at sea
under the guise of it merely being an oily waste. Such wastes ordinarily can be
processed through an oil pollution prevention device on a ship, which would limit
any oily waste discharge to the standards set by U.S. and international law. The
Sabine officers and employees were well aware, as alleged, that discharging the
oil-laden mixture in this fashion from the S. S. Juneau was neither legal nor
feasible. Nevertheless, they decided to hire a team of 15 Bulgarian nationals and a
technician to board the S. S. Juneau in Singapore and directly discharge the
contaminated wheat into the ocean during the return voyage to the United States.
Over seven (7) days in February 1999, the S. S. Juneau, while transiting the South
China Sea, emptied the contaminated cargo tank and failed to report the discharge
to the U.S. Coast Guard as required by law.
Mr. Jiménez commended the investigative efforts of the United States Environmental
Protection Agency – Criminal Investigation Division, United States Coast Guard
Investigative Service, as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The case is
being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of
Florida, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Iowa, and
the Environmental Crimes Section of the U.S. Department of Justice.