Former president of Freedom Industries sentenced to 1 month in prison for chemical spill

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UPDATE 2/17/16 @ 4:40 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) – The man at the center of a chemical spill in Charleston that contaminated drinking water for hundreds of thousands of people learned his fate Wednesday.

Gary Southern, the former president of Freedom Industries, was sentenced in federal court to one month in prison, six months supervised release and $20,000 fine to be paid in the next 15 days. He will receive time served for one night he spent behind bars in Florida.

Last August, Southern pleaded guilty to three charges, including negligent discharge of pollutant, causing a discharge of refuse and violating a condition of a clean water act permit.

He faced up to three years in prison as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. Southern faced the harshest penalty of all the executives charged in the case. Federal prosecutors recommended a sentence of 21 to 27 months. The defense sought no prison time. According to court records, Southern wanted three years probation.

The chemical spill happened on January 9, 2014 when a storage tank at Freedom Industries corroded, leaking more than ten thousand gallons of the chemical MCHM into the Elk River.

After the spill, a “do not use” water order was issued in nine counties, including Kanawha, Boone, Putnam, Lincoln, Logan, Clay, Roane, Jackson and parts of Cabell.

A day after that ban was put in place the company held a news conference, but Southern didn’t answer many questions.

In fact, shortly after it got underway Southern asked for it to end.

“It’s been an extremely long day. I’m having a hard time talking at the moment. I would appreciate if we could wrap this up,” Southern said during the news conference on January 10, 2014.

When Southern tried to walk away, reporters started asking more questions and he returned, but he didn’t answer many of them before leaving again.

Several people spoke out after that news conference saying they were upset that the company wouldn’t release more information about the incident or a timeline of when their water would be restored. The “do not use” order lasted nine days before water was restored.

Southern was the sixth and final Freedom official to be sentenced in the case.

Four other former officials were sentenced to probation; a fifth received a one-month prison term.

Former owner of Freedom Industries, Dennis Farrell was the first to get jail time. Last week, the judge sentenced Farrell to spend thirty days behind bars for his involvement in the spill. Farrell also has to pay a $20,000 fine.

The other former owner of Freedom Industries, William Tis, was sentenced to three years probation and a $20,000 fine. Tis previously pleaded guilty to environmental violations that led to the chemical spill.

Earlier this month, former plant manager Michael Burdette, former Vice President Charles Herzing and environmental consultant Robert Reynolds were also each sentenced to three years probation.

The company itself, which filed for bankruptcy eight days after the spill, was fined $900,000, although a judge said it was symbolic due to the company's liquidation.



ORIGINAL STORY 2/17/16 @ 9:22 a.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - A former executive with direct oversight of a West Virginia chemical tank farm that leaked and fouled the local drinking water supply in 2014 is due in court for sentencing.

Gary Southern is the last of six ex-Freedom Industries officials to be sentenced on pollution charges. He is set to appear Wednesday afternoon in federal court in Charleston.

Southern faces the harshest penalty: up to three years in prison and $300,000 in fines. Federal prosecutors recommended a sentence of 21 to 27 months. The defense sought no prison time.

Four other former officials were sentenced to probation; a fifth received a one-month prison term.

The company, which filed for bankruptcy eight days after the spill, was fined $900,000, although a judge said it was symbolic due to the company's liquidation.



 
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