At United Water trial, question isn’t actions, it’s whether they are criminal
By Teresa Auch Schultz email@example.com October 30, 2012 4:16PM
Updated: December 1, 2012 4:43PM
None of the attorneys disagreed Tuesday morning during opening arguments at U.S. District Court in Hammond that United Water Services changed the levels of chlorine used to disinfect sewage water at the Gary Sanitary District during the past decade. The argument is whether that conduct was criminal, as federal attorneys claim, or done as normal and accepted procedures of waste water treatment plants.
United Water and two of its employees, Dwain Bowie and Gregory Ciaccio, face 23 counts of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government and tampering with the monitoring of water testing at GSD from about 2003 to 2010. The government dismissed three other counts.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Toi Denise Houston told jurors the company and the two individual defendants worked together to increase the amount of chlorine, which kills off E. coli, just before daily test samples were taken so that those samples would have a low enough level of E. coli to fall under permit levels. The defendants would then lower the chlorine immediately after to save money and cut corners, she said. This means the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Indiana Department of Environmental Management didn’t get accurate information about water being released into local streams, Houston said.
“It was a conspiracy to cheat the system, and it worked,” she told the jury.
Larry Mackey, one of the attorneys for United Water, agreed with Houston that United Water did raise and lower the chlorine levels — but not for any sinister purpose. Instead, the company was following a procedure created before either Ciaccio or Bowie came to the plant that called for increasing the chlorine to avoid false positive test results. The company will prove this, he said, partly by showing that there was always leftover chlorine in the water after disinfecting, which only happens if there is no more E. coli to kill.
“We’re not hiding from these facts; we own these facts,” Mackey told the jury. He also claimed that some of the government’s witnesses had their own reasons for testifying, including avoiding prosecution.
James Hanlon argued that his client, Ciaccio, would never have kept so much information and made it available to any inspector had he been taking part in a conspiracy to defraud the government. Hanlon told the jury that Ciaccio came to the GSD plant in 2003, when the conspiracy is alleged to have started, and learned about the entire disinfection plan from a former United Water employee who created it. When that employee left a few years later, Hanlon said, and Ciaccio eventually took charge, he simply continued to follow it.
Bowie’s attorneys said they would wait until after the government rests to present their opening remarks. The trial is expected to last three weeks.