Deal reached in pollution case

A New Idria property owner agreed to a plea bargain for five
counts of criminal pollution and violating state environmental
laws, and agreed to pay $200,000 in fines toward cleaning up the
site.
A New Idria property owner agreed to a plea bargain for five counts of criminal pollution and violating state environmental laws, and agreed to pay $200,000 in fines toward cleaning up the site.

SyIvester Herring, who runs a drug rehabilitation center in San Jose, pleaded no contest to five misdemeanor criminal charges, the San Benito County District Attorney’s office said.

In criminal cases, a no contest plea has the same effect as a plea of guilty. The difference is that a no contest plea cannot be used against someone as an admission of guilt in a civil suit.

Three of the charges against Herring were for the illegal disposal, treatment and storage of hazardous waste. One charge was for the illegal stockpiling of solid waste and the last charge was for water pollution stemming from the contaminants at Herring’s illegal dog-kennel operation.

Presiding Superior Court Judge Harry Tobias accepted the no contest plea on Nov. 8 and placed Herring on three years probation with no jail time.

As part of the plea bargain, Herring agreed to pay a total of $200,000 to clean up the old New Idria mining town.

The case against Herring focused on years of pollution he was responsible for allowing to build up.

Over the years, the buildup of hazardous waste at New Idria included the storage of hundreds of 55-gallon drums and 5-gallon containers filled with hazardous liquids and possibly thousands of tons of solid waste, and the illegal dog kennel, which threatened to pollute nearby water sources. Deputy District Attorney Stacey Geis said.

Geis, a prosecutor with the California District Attorney’s Association who specializes in environmental law, was brought in by District Attorney Harry Damkar to prosecute the case.

“I wish to acknowledge the efforts of Ms. Geis and the California District Attorney’s Association for their assistance in this case,” Damkar said. “This office had been frustrated for years regarding compliance at that site.”

Under the plea agreement, $150,000 of Herring’s fine will be used to respond to the threatened release of hazardous waste at the site.

The money, which is due in 17 days, will be placed in a district attorney trust account and then transferred to a federal, state or local environmental agency to conduct the cleanup.

Under penalty of perjury, Herring had to provide financial documents showing his assets and liabilities. Based on a review of these documents, the district attorney’s office determined that $150,000 was an appropriate figure.

“Should this office discover that there are significant assets that were not disclosed to us, the entire deal is off and the case will be reset for preliminary hearing,” Geis said.

The terms of the plea bargain include these conditions:

– $150,000 for the cleanup of hazardous waste at the site to be paid within 20 days.

– 240 hours of comrnunity service to be completed in six months.

– A $5O,OOO fine, which will be suspended during the three-year term of probation and due immediately if there are any new hazardous waste violations.

– The monthly removal of a minimum of 10 tons or 36 cubic yards of solid waste during the three-year probation term.

– No new accumulation of hazardous waste or solid waste without a permit.

– A search waiver for the New Idria property to ensure compliance with the plea.

– A $500 restitution payment to the Superior Court.

– The standard requirement to obey all laws.

Herring faces up to four years in jail if he fails to comply with any of the terms of his probation.

As part of the plea, prosecutors dismissed an undisclosed criminal charge against Herring’s wife.

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