“Walmart Pleads Guilty to Federal Environmental Crimes, Admits Civil Violations, and Will Pay More Than $81 Million”

May 29, 2013

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on May 28, 2013 released the following press release:

“Retailer Admits Violating Criminal and Civil Laws Designed to Protect Water Quality and to Ensure Proper Handling of Hazardous Wastes and Pesticides

WASHINGTON—Walmart Stores Inc. pleaded guilty today in cases filed by federal prosecutors in Los Angeles and San Francisco to six counts of violating the Clean Water Act by illegally handling and disposing of hazardous materials at its retail stores across the United States. The Bentonville, Arkansas-based company also pleaded guilty today in Kansas City, Missouri, to violating the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) by failing to properly handle pesticides that had been returned by customers at its stores across the country.

As a result of the three criminal cases brought by the Justice Department, as well as a related civil case filed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Walmart will pay approximately $81.6 million for its unlawful conduct. Coupled with previous actions brought by the states of California and Missouri for the same conduct, Walmart will pay a combined total of more than $110 million to resolve cases alleging violations of federal and state environmental laws.

According to documents filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, from a date unknown until January 2006, Walmart did not have a program in place and failed to train its employees on proper hazardous waste management and disposal practices at the store level. As a result, hazardous wastes were either discarded improperly at the store level—including being put into municipal trash bins or, if a liquid, poured into the local sewer system—or they were improperly transported without proper safety documentation to one of six product return centers located throughout the United States.

“By improperly handling hazardous waste, pesticides, and other materials in violation of federal laws, Walmart put the public and the environment at risk and gained an unfair economic advantage over other companies,” said Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Today, Walmart acknowledged responsibility for violations of federal laws and will pay significant fines and penalties, which will, in part, fund important environmental projects in the communities impacted by the violations and help prevent future harm to the environment.”

“Federal laws that address the proper handling, storage, and disposal of hazardous wastes exist to safeguard our environment and protect the public from harm,” said André Birotte, Jr., the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California. “Retailers like Walmart that generate hazardous waste have a duty to legally and safely dispose of that hazardous waste, and dumping it down the sink was neither legal nor safe. The case against Walmart is designed to ensure compliance with our nation’s environmental laws now and in the future.”

“As one of the largest retailers in the United States, Walmart is responsible not only for the stock on its shelves but also for the significant amount of hazardous materials that result from damaged products returned by customers,” said Melinda Haag, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California. “The crimes in these cases stem from Walmart’s failure to comply with the regulations designed to ensure the proper handling, storage, and disposal of those hazardous materials and waste. With its guilty plea today, Walmart is in a position to be an industry leader by ensuring that not only Walmart but all retail stores properly handle their waste.”

“This tough financial penalty holds Walmart accountable for its reckless and illegal business practices that threatened both the public and the environment,” said Tammy Dickinson, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri. “Truckloads of hazardous products, including more than two million pounds of pesticides, were improperly handled under Walmart’s contract. Today’s criminal fine should send a message to companies of all sizes that they will be held accountable to follow federal environmental laws. Additionally, Walmart’s community service payment will fund important environmental projects in Missouri to help prevent such abuses in the future.”

“The FBI holds all companies, regardless of size, to the same standards,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge David J. Johnson of the San Francisco Field Office. “We will continue to work closely with our law enforcement partners to ensure there is a level playing field for all businesses and that everyone follows the rules.”

“Today, Walmart is taking responsibility for violating laws that protect people from hazardous wastes and chemicals,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “Walmart is committing to safe handling of hazardous wastes at all of its facilities nationwide, an action that will benefit communities across the country.”

Walmart owns more than 4,000 stores nationwide that sell thousands of products which are flammable, corrosive, reactive, toxic, or otherwise hazardous under federal law. The products that contain hazardous materials include pesticides, solvents, detergents, paints, aerosols, and cleaners. Once discarded, these products are considered hazardous waste under federal law.

Walmart pleaded guilty this morning in San Francisco to six misdemeanor counts of negligently violating the Clean Water Act. The six criminal charges were filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles and San Francisco (each office filed three charges), and the two cases were consolidated in the Northern District of California, where the guilty pleas were formally entered before U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph C. Spero. As part of a plea agreement filed in California, Walmart was sentenced to pay a $40 million criminal fine and an additional $20 million that will fund various community service projects, including opening a $6 million Retail Compliance Assistance Center that will help retail stores across the nation learn how to properly handle hazardous waste.

In the third criminal case resolved today, Walmart pleaded guilty in the Western District of Missouri to violating FIFRA. According to a plea agreement filed in Kansas City, beginning in 2006, Walmart began sending certain damaged household products, including regulated solid and liquid pesticides, from its six return centers to Greenleaf LLC, a recycling facility located in Neosho, Missouri, where the products were processed for reuse and resale. Because Walmart employees failed to provide adequate oversight of the pesticides sent to Greenleaf, regulated pesticides were mixed together and offered for sale to customers without the required registration, ingredients, or use information, which constitutes a violation of FIFRA. Between July 2006 and February 2008, Walmart trucked more than two million pounds of regulated pesticides and additional household products from its various return centers to Greenleaf. In November 2008, Greenleaf was also convicted of a FIFRA violation and paid a criminal penalty of $200,000 in 2009.

Pursuant to the plea agreement filed in Missouri and accepted today by U.S. District Judge John T. Maughmer, Walmart agreed to pay a criminal fine of $11 million and to pay another $3 million to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, which will go to that agency’s Hazardous Waste Program and will be used to fund further inspections and education on pesticide regulations for regulators, the regulated community, and the public. In addition, Walmart has already spent more than $3.4 million to properly remove and dispose of all hazardous material from Greenleaf’s facility.

In conjunction with today’s guilty pleas in the three criminal cases, Walmart has agreed to pay a $7.628 million civil penalty that will resolve civil violations of FIFRA and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). In addition to the civil penalties, Walmart is required to implement a comprehensive, nationwide environmental compliance agreement to manage hazardous waste generated at its stores. The agreement includes requirements to ensure adequate environmental personnel and training at all levels of the company, proper identification and management of hazardous wastes, and the development and implementation of Environmental Management Systems at its stores and return centers. Compliance with this agreement is a condition of probation imposed in the criminal cases.

The criminal cases announced today are a result of investigations conducted by the FBI and the EPA, which received substantial assistance from the California Department of Substance and Toxics Control, and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

In Missouri, the case was prosecuted by Deputy U.S. Attorney Gene Porter and ENRD Senior Trial Attorney Jennifer Whitfield of the Environmental Crimes Section of the Environment and Natural Resources Division. In California, the cases were prosecuted in Los Angeles by Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph O. Johns and in San Francisco by Assistant U.S. Attorney Stacey Geis.”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

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To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


Appeal in Insider Trading Case Centers on Wiretap

October 24, 2012

The New York Times on October 23, 2012 released the following:

“BY PETER LATTMAN

In March 2008, the Justice Department made an extraordinary request: It asked a judge for permission to record secretly the phone conversations of Raj Rajaratnam, a billionaire hedge fund manager.

The request, which was granted, was the first time the government had asked for a wiretap to investigate insider trading. Federal agents eavesdropped on Mr. Rajaratnam for nine months, leading to his indictment — along with charges against 22 others — and the biggest insider trading case in a generation.

On Thursday, lawyers for Mr. Rajaratnam, who is serving an 11-year prison term after being found guilty at trial, will ask a federal appeals court to reverse his conviction. They contend that the government improperly obtained a wiretap in violation of Mr. Rajaratnam’s constitutional privacy rights and federal laws governing electronic surveillance.

Such a ruling is considered a long shot, but a reversal would have broad implications. Not only would it upend Mr. Rajaratnam’s conviction but also affect the prosecution of Rajat K. Gupta, the former Goldman Sachs director who was convicted of leaking boardroom secrets to Mr. Rajaratnam. Mr. Gupta is scheduled to be sentenced on Wednesday.

A decision curbing the use of wiretaps would also affect the government’s ability to police Wall Street trading floors, as insider trading cases and other securities fraud crimes are notoriously difficult to build without direct evidence like incriminating telephone conversations.

“Wiretaps traditionally have been used in narcotics and organized crime cases,” said Harlan J. Protass, a criminal defense lawyer in New York who is not involved in the Rajaratnam case. “Their use today in insider trading investigations indicates that the government thinks there may be no bounds to the types of white-collar cases in which they can be used.”

More broadly, Mr. Rajaratnam’s appeal is being closely watched for its effect on the privacy protections of defendants regarding wiretap use. Three parties have filed “friend-of-the-court” briefs siding with Mr. Rajaratnam. Eight former federal judges warned that allowing the court’s ruling to stand “would pose a grave threat to the integrity of the warrant process.” A group of defense lawyers said that upholding the use of wiretaps in this case would “eviscerate the integrity of the criminal justice system.”

To safeguard privacy protections, federal law permits the government’s use of wiretaps only under narrowly prescribed conditions. Among the conditions are that a judge, before authorizing a wiretap, must find that conventional investigative techniques have been tried and failed. Mr. Rajaratnam’s lawyers said the government misled the judge who authorized the wiretap, Gerard E. Lynch, in this regard.

They say that the government omitted that the Securities and Exchange Commission had already been building its case against Mr. Rajaratnam for more than a year using typical investigative means like interviewing witnesses and reviewing trading records. Had the judge known about the S.E.C.’s investigation, he would not have allowed the government to use a wiretap, Mr. Rajaratnam’s lawyers argue.

Before Mr. Rajaratnam’s trial, the presiding judge, Richard J. Holwell, held a four-day hearing on the legality of the wiretaps. Judge Holwell criticized the government, calling its decision to leave out information about its more conventional investigation a “glaring omission” that demonstrated “a reckless disregard for the truth.”

Nevertheless, Judge Holwell refused to suppress the wiretaps, in part, he said, because they were necessary to uncover Mr. Rajartanam’s insider trading scheme. “It appears that the S.E.C., and by inference the criminal authorities, had hit a wall of sorts,” Judge Holwell wrote.

On appeal, Mr. Rajaratnam lawyers argued that the government’s lack of candor should not be tolerated. They described the government’s wiretap application as full of “misleading assertions” and “outright falsity” that made it impossible for Judge Lynch to do his job.

“The government’s self-chosen reckless disregard of the truth and of the critical role of independent judicial review breached that trust and desolated the warrant’s basis,” wrote Mr. Rajaratnam’s lawyers at the law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.

In their brief to the appeals court, federal prosecutors dispute that they acted with a “reckless disregard for the truth.” Instead, they argue that omitting details of the S.E.C.’s investigation was at most “an innocent mistake rising to the level of negligence.” In addition, they said that the S.E.C.’s inquiry failed to yield sufficient evidence for a criminal case, necessitating the use of a wiretap.

Once Judge Lynch signed off on the wiretap application, the government’s investigation into Mr. Rajaratnam accelerated. The wiretapping of Mr. Rajaratnam’s phone, along with the subsequent recording of his supposed accomplices, yielded about 2,400 conversations. In many of them, Mr. Rajaratnam could be heard exchanging confidential information about technology stocks like Google and Advanced Micro Devices.

Three years ago this month, federal authorities arrested Mr. Rajaratnam and charged him with orchestrating a seven-year insider trading conspiracy. The sprawling case has produced 23 arrests of traders and tipsters, many of them caught swapping secrets with Mr. Rajaratnam about publicly traded companies.

Among the thousands of calls were four that implicated Mr. Gupta, a former head of the consulting firm McKinsey & Company who served as a director at Goldman Sachs and Procter & Gamble. On one call in July 2008, the only wiretapped conversation between the two men, Mr. Gupta freely shared Goldman’s confidential board discussions with Mr. Rajaratnam. On another, Mr. Rajaratnam told a colleague at his hedge fund, the Galleon Group, “I heard yesterday from somebody who’s on the board of Goldman Sachs that they are going to lose $2 per share.”

Those conversations set off an investigation of Mr. Gupta. He was arrested in October 2011 and charged with leaking boardroom secrets about Goldman and P.& G. to Mr. Rajaratnam. A jury convicted him in May after a monthlong trial.

On Wednesday at Federal District Court in Manhattan, Judge Jed S. Rakoff will sentence Mr. Gupta. Federal prosecutors are seeking a prison term of up to 10 years. Mr. Gupta’s lawyers have asked Judge Rakoff for a nonprison sentence of probation and community service. One proposal by the defense would have Mr. Gupta living in Rwanda and working on global health issues.

Regardless of his sentence, Mr. Gupta plans to appeal. And because prosecutors used wiretap evidence in his trial, Mr. Gupta would benefit from a reversal of Mr. Rajaratnam’s conviction.

Yet a reversal would not affect the convictions of the defendants in the conspiracy who have pleaded guilty. As part of their pleas, those defendants waived their rights to an appeal.”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

Federal Crimes – Appeal

————————————————————–

To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.