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For immediate release -- Friday, October 22, 1999.
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Altoona Waste Hauler Sentenced to 10
Years in Prison and $100,000 Fine

Gilbert Thomas sentenced for first-degree theft and various environmental violations.

DES MOINES-- Gilbert Thomas of Altoona today was sentenced to serve up to ten years in prison and to pay a $100,000 fine. Thomas pled guilty in August to a felony criminal charge of theft and to seven aggravated misdemeanors for illegal storage, hauling and disposing of hazardous wastes from 1996 to July 1998.

Judge Larry J. Eisenhauer sentenced Thomas today in Polk County District Court.

Thomas did business as Des Moines Septic Service and A-1 Septic Service at 4761 N.E. 80th Street in Altoona. The felony theft-by-deception charge was based on Thomas's telling customers -- who paid thousands of dollars for hazardous waste disposal -- that the wastes were being transported and disposed of properly.

In his sentencing order Eisenhauer said "probation in this case is denied because it would unduly lessen the seriousness of the offense." U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials said it was the longest criminal sentence ever issued in EPA Region VII.

Investigation by various authorities began in May 1998 after the Altoona Fire Dept. responded to a report of an unusual discharge into a creek in eastern Polk County. The discharge was traced to Thomas's business property at 4761 NE 80th Street in Altoona. A search of the property revealed hazardous waste stored illegally in a semi-tanker.

Deputy Attorney General Doug Marek said further investigation determined that Thomas had installed 750 feet of PVC pipe running from his truck garage in Altoona to the ravine of Mud Creek, a tributary of the Des Moines River. The EPA called the piping "a clandestine illegal disposal system." Marek said the drain pipe started with a quick-connect coupling in the truck garage that allowed Thomas to drain hazardous wastes from trucks directly into the piping.

Thomas also admitted violations at a site in Des Moines at 1013 SE 28th Street, where waste was discharged into a pit and into an illegal connection to the city sewer system.The sites do not now pose a health or environmental hazard.

Attorney General Tom Miller said: "This is an appropriate sentence for this very serious case, and it shows that we can tackle crimes that threaten the environment."

"This case also demonstrated superb cooperation between local, State and federal officials to protect the environment and hold an offender accountable," Miller said. "It was a team effort in terms of detecting and investigating the crime, prosecuting the case, protecting the public, and cleaning up the damage."

Miller's Office filed the criminal charges with cooperation from the Polk County Attorney's Office, Iowa Dept. of Natural Resources, Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Local fire and water officials also cooperated in the investigation.

Eisenhauer left open one part of the record for sentencing: restitution to State and local agencies for their emergency response costs. Marek asked the Court to order Thomas to pay restitution of $45,903 for such costs; restitution will be determined later by the Court.

The EPA has initiated action to recover its emergency response and clean-up costs, which total about $1.1 million.

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