In its own version of the FBI’s most-wanted list and the first such program to focus on environmental crimes, the Environmental Protection Agency has developed a website featuring a roster of 23 fugitives the government wants the public’s help in tracking down.
These fugitives have allegedly assaulted nature by such acts as smuggling illegal ozone-depleting chemicals or dumping hazardous waste into our water supplies. A top EPA enforcement official said the people on the list represent the “brazen universe of people who are evading the law.” Many face years in prison, and some charges could result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.
One of the 23 current fugitives is Mauro Valenzuela, 39, a former mechanic for Sabertech. Among his several charges, Valenzuela is alleged to have illegally loaded hazardous materials (waste oxygen generators) onto a commercial aircraft in 1996. The jet crashed, killing all 110 passengers and crew on board. Valenzuela failed to appear in federal court nine years ago.
The website also lists EPA’s captured fugitives. Earlier this year, EPA found two men on the run. David Allen Phillips escaped prison four years ago after being convicted of Clean Water Act crimes in Montana. He fled to Mexico, was turned over to authorities by the Mexican government last March, and awaits further sentencing. David Ortiz fled after the appeal of his conviction for Clean Water Act crimes in 2004. He remained at large for almost four years until his capture last March in Colorado and is currently in prison.
The launch of the most-wanted list comes as EPA’s criminal enforcement has ebbed. In fiscal year 2008, the EPA opened 319 criminal enforcement cases, down from 425 in fiscal 2004. And criminal prosecutors charged only 176 defendants with environmental crimes, the fewest in five years.