WASHINGTON, D.C.- April 2, 2005 – LAWFUEL – The Law News Network – The Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced that Rick Dean Stickle, the Chairman and owner of Sabine Transportation Company, was sentenced today to 33 months in prison. The sentence was imposed today by U.S. District Court Judge Alan S. Gold in Miami, Florida. A jury found Stickle guilty of the two counts in the indictment after a five week trial in November.
Stickle was convicted of ordering the illegal dumping of 440 tons of oil-contaminated grain into the ocean from the SS Juneau, a Sabine tanker, and of obstruction of an investigation conducted by the U.S. Coast Guard and Department of Agriculture. Judge Gold also imposed a $60,000 criminal fine.
“The Justice Department is taking serious action against companies and individuals who purposefully violate our marine pollution laws,” said Thomas L. Sansonetti, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Disrespect for our nation’s laws that protect our marine resources will not be tolerated.”
“The oceans cannot be used as dumping grounds,” said Thomas V. Skinner, EPA Acting Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “Today’s sentence signals that senior officials will be vigorously prosecuted for their company’s violations.”
Sabine Transportation, headquartered in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, previously pleaded guilty to violations of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships and paid a $2 million criminal fine. Stickle was the chairman of Sabine and was the ultimate owner of all of the company’s ships and approximately a dozen related companies. Four others have been convicted in related prosecutions, including Michael R. Reeve, a former president of Sabine; Michael M. Krider, a former shore-side supervisory marine superintendent; Captain George K. McKay; and Chief Officer Philip J. Hitchens.
“Those who abuse our resources to make a profit are on notice,” said Marcos Daniel Jiménez, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. “Our office is committed to holding accountable not only unscrupulous companies, but also their principals as well.”
“The Coast Guard is very proud of the United States Government’s success in bringing this case to justice for environmental crimes related to the SS Juneau,” said Rear Admiral Thomas Gilmour, US Coast Guard Assistant Commandant for Marine Safety, Security and Environmental Protection. “Shoreside executives who give orders to pollute the marine environment or impede investigations will continue to be held accountable even if their desks are many thousands of miles away from the scene of the crime,” added Gilmour.
The government’s investigation began when the SS Juneau arrived in Portland, Oregon at the end of a voyage and crew members alerted Coast Guard personnel that a diesel oil leak in one of the Juneau’s main cargo tanks was discovered while the humanitarian shipment of grain was being off-loaded in Bangladesh in December of 1998. Approximately 440 metric tons of wheat became saturated with the oil and was rejected by Bengali authorities.
Over the course of the following month, while the ship was in Singapore, company officials and vessel officers discussed various ways of off-loading the cargo legally, but this option was ultimately rejected by Stickle as too expensive, according to the evidence introduced during the trial. Instead, Stickle and other company officials intentionally misled Coast Guard officers in Singapore and Portland by failing to disclose the true nature of the contaminated residue and seeking authorization to discharge the residue at sea by mischaracterizing the true nature of the waste.
Although concealed from the Coast Guard at the time, Stickle and other Sabine executives had decided to hire a team of 15 Bulgarian nationals to board the SS Juneau in Singapore and directly discharge the contaminated wheat into the ocean during the return voyage to the United States. During the first week of February 1999, the crew members of the SS Juneau dumped the 440 tons of diesel-saturated wheat directly into the South China Sea and lied to Coast Guard officials and agents for Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere (C.A.R.E.) to conceal the illegal dumping.
The investigation was conducted by the EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division, the Coast Guard Investigative Service, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The case is being prosecuted by the Environmental Crimes Section of the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Iowa.