FAYETTEVILLE, WV (WVNS) – Michael Graves, 67, of Charlton Heights, and West Virginia Environmental Services (WVES), a company entirely owned by Graves, each pleaded guilty on February 22, 2023, to polluting Kanawha River with leachate material, a felony violation of the Clean Water Act.
According to court information, Graves and WVES owned and managed an industrial waste landfill in Fayette County, West Virginia. Inspectors from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection learned that Graves and WVES failed to maintain the landfill’s leachate collection.
Leachate is any liquid that passes through the landfill and picks up material from the landfill, including toxic materials that must be properly treated prior to discharge into a stream or tributary.
The maintenance had been faulty for several years beginning in at least 2016.
The failure of Graves and WVES to maintain the leachate collection system caused leachate that contained toxic water pollutants to leak into a tributary that flowed into the Kanawha River near Alloy, West Virginia. The toxic pollutants included arsenic, hexavalent chromium, and selenium. The Clean Water Act National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit for the landfill has since lapsed and has not been renewed.
Graves is scheduled to be sentenced on June 1, 2023, and faces a maximum penalty of three years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a $250,000 fine. WVES faces a maximum penalty of $500,000 and five years of probation. Graves and WVES both face a possible order of restitution.
“Polluters must be held accountable when their violations result in a risk to our communities. I thank the Criminal Investigative Division of the Environmental Protection Agency and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection for their investigative work in this case.”United States Attorney Will Thompson
“Our nation’s environmental laws are designed to ensure water contaminated with heavy metals and known carcinogens from industrial activities, such as those seen here, do not get into our rivers and streams. Today’s guilty plea by Mr. Graves and West Virginia Environmental Services demonstrates that individuals and companies who knowingly violate those laws will be held responsible for their crimes.”Acting Special Agent in Charge Richard Conrad of EPA’s Criminal Investigation Program in West Virginia
Senior United States District Judge John T. Copenhaver, Jr. presided over the hearing. Assistant United States Attorney Erik S. Goes and Special Assistant United States Attorney Perry McDaniel are prosecuting the case.
On May 5, 2022, the Department launched the Office of Environmental Justice and announced a comprehensive environmental justice enforcement strategy. Enforcement of this strategy relies upon meaningful engagement and transparency with impacted communities regarding environmental justice issues, efforts, and results.
The United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of West Virginia enforces federal laws to protect environmental quality and human health in all communities within the district. In coordination with components of the Justice Department, the United States Attorney’s Office will hold polluters accountable for their actions, prioritizing cases that will reduce public health and environmental harms to overburdened and underserved communities.