Businessman pleads guilty in illegal dumping of wastewater

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A Mississippi business owner pleaded guilty Wednesday to conspiracy to violate the federal Clean Water Act after prosecutors said he took part in illegally dumping large amounts of untreated industrial waste into the Jackson sewer system.

Andrew Walker, 70, owns Rebel High Velocity Sewer Services, based in Jackson.

Federal prosecutors said in a news release that Walker admitted to conspiring with generators and transporters of industrial waste to illegally discharge more than 3 million gallons (11.3 million liters) of untreated waste into the city sewer system.

By law, the waste should have been treated to reduce pollutants. Prosecutors said the conspirators left it untreated to avoid that expense, and that they evaded sewer usage fees and the cost of disposing of the waste at legal facilities.

The news release said that state and city authorities discovered in October 2016 that a manufacturing company had been discharging industrial waste directly into the sewer system.

Government agencies ordered the company to stop the illegal dumping and to ship the waste off-site for treatment and disposal. Prosecutors said that from November 2016 through October 2017, Walker and his coconspirators misrepresented the industrial waste to be domestic waste and dumped it at Jackson’s treatment plant. The news release said they also discharged hundreds of truckloads of industrial waste into a city sewer pipe that they excavated at Rebel High Velocity Sewer Services.

“The Clean Water Act is in place to not only protect the environment, but to safeguard our communities and residents from the risks of industrial waste,” said Michelle Sutphin, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Jackson office. “Circumventing the law to improperly dispose of waste in order to make a profit is a crime that the FBI and our partners take seriously."

Walker pleaded guilty Wednesday before U.S. District Judge Kristi H. Johnson in Jackson. He remains free on bond until his sentencing hearing, which has not been scheduled.

Walker faces up to five years in prison for the count of conspiracy and three years for the count of discharging industrial waste. Each count also carries a fine of up to $250,000.