A former assistant administrator of the United States Environmental Protection
Agency was indicted today on federal wire fraud charges for allegedly orchestrating
a scheme to fraudulently obtain money from a client who had hired her San Diego
County company to assist in the clean-up of a Superfund site.
Rita Marie Lavelle, 57, of Temecula, who served at EPA during the Reagan
administration, was indicted on one count of wire fraud and two counts of making
false statements to agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The grand jury
also indicted Robert Virgil Cole, 67, of Ventura, on one count of wire fraud.
Lavelle and a partner owned NuTECH Enterprises, Inc., an environmental consulting
firm in Oceanside, California. Cole and a partner owned DeNova Environmental, Inc.,
a hazardous waste storage facility in Rialto, California.
Lavelle and Cole are accused of forging documents that purportedly bore the
signature of a Joseph Bertelli, the owner of Lemco Corporation in South Los
Angeles, to make it appear that Bertelli owed Cole’s company more than $52,000 for
the removal and storage of hazardous waste. Those documents were used to obtain
$36,441 from Capital Partners USA, Inc., a company that provides “factoring”
services on accounts receivables to companies such as DeNova. (A factoring company
typically advances money to clients in exchange for the right to collect the
clients’ accounts receivable. The advanced amount is typically a percentage of the
amount due to the client.)
In April 2000, Lemco was ordered by the EPA to remove all hazardous waste from its
site. Bertelli, who was then 86, had hired Lavelle to assist with the clean up. At
the time, DeNova owed NuTECH $85,000 for work that Lavelle had previously performed
In August 2000, Lavelle demanded payment from DeNova, but she agreed to discount
the bill to $35,000 if DeNova could pay the amount immediately. Lavelle and Cole
then allegedly devised a plan to submit a false purchase order to Capital Partners
to make it appear that Lemco owed DeNova money. Lavelle submitted to Capital
Partners numerous documents that bore Bertelli’s forged signature. Capital Partners
relied on these forged documents to advance DeNova $36,441. Only when Capital
Partners attempted to collect from Bertelli did it realize that Bertelli had never
signed the documents, Bertelli had never agreed to the bill, and DeNova had never
removed hazardous waste for Lemco.
Lavelle and Cole, if convicted on the wire fraud count, could be sentenced to as
much as 30 years in prison and fined $1 million. Lavelle faces up to five years in
prison and a $250,000 fine if she is convicted of the false statement counts.
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every
defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable
Lavelle and Cole will be summoned to appear for an arraignment next month in United
States District Court in Los Angeles.
This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation with the
assistance of the Los Angeles County Fire Department, Health Hazardous Materials
Division and members of the San Bernardino County Environmental Crimes Task Force,
which includes the San Bernardino County Fire Department, Hazardous Materials
Division; the San Bernardino County District Attorneys Office; the California
Department of Toxic Substances Control; and the United States Environmental