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Company pleads guilty and is sentenced for false statements in the importation of ozone-depleting substance

MIAMI - A Florida corporation pleaded guilty and was sentenced Friday in connection with false statements made on entry documents for the importation of ozone-depleting refrigerant gas, following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Harp USA Inc. (Harp) pleaded guilty to charges that it knowingly and intentionally introduced into the United States approximately 1,874 cylinders of the ozone-depleting substance hydrochlorofluorocarbon-22 (HCFC-22), using false invoices and statements. HCFC-22 is a widely used refrigerant for residential heat pump and air-conditioning systems.

Immediately following the guilty plea, Harp was sentenced to three years probation and ordered to pay a $206,140 criminal fine. Harp was also ordered to perform community service by making a $25,000 payment to the Southern Environmental Enforcement Training Fund, a not-for-profit training organization. In addition, as a special condition of probation, Harp was ordered to implement and enforce an environmental compliance plan and to reimburse the government for costs associated with the storage and handling of the merchandise. Harp was also ordered to forfeit to the United States $206,140, which represents proceeds received as a result of the crime.

The Clean Air Act regulates air pollutants, including ozone-depleting substances such as HCFC-22. Federal law prohibits making false statements in connection with documentation used to import merchandise into the United States.

"The unlawful importation of goods poses a triple threat to the national security, public safety, and economic well-being of the United States," Anthony V. Mangione, special agent in charge of ICE HSI in Miami. "We will continue to vigorously investigate those who are determined to line their pockets with the proceeds of crimes against the environment."

According to court records, Harp is a wholly owned subsidiary of Harp Overseas Limited, a United Kingdom Private Limited Company, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Harp International Limited. Harp International Limited is a market leader in the supply of refrigerant gas throughout the United Kingdom and overseas markets. According to statements in court and court records, in July 2010, Harp sought to import approximately 25,497 kilograms of HCFC-22 based on a petition to the EPA. The petition falsely claimed a single source of the refrigerant gas, when in fact, there was no single source. EPA had previously indicated it would deny a petition from multi-use or multi-source facilities because of the inability to verify whether the product was new or used. Harp also falsely claimed source equipment capacity was more than 25,000 kilograms. In fact, the claimed source equipment capacity was only 700 kilograms (with a separate holding tank of another approximately 700 kilograms).

U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer stated, "The U.S. Attorney's Office is committed to enforcing federal laws that seek to protect our safety and environment."

"The defendants flouted the protections we have in place to prevent the illegal importation of ozone- depleting substances. These substances thin the ozone layer causing skin cancers and cataracts," said Maureen O'Mara, special agent in charge of EPA's criminal enforcement program in Florida. "The aggressive criminal prosecution of these cases deter others who seek to jeopardize our health, safety and national security and bolsters EPA's commitment to the Montreal Protocol, the international agreement designed to protect the ozone layer."

"The effort to protect the ozone layer is a great success, but the job is not finished yet, since seasonal ozone holes in Antarctica continue to appear," said Drusilla Hufford, U.S. EPA Stratospheric Protection Division director. "When we prevent smugglers from illegally profiting by bringing falsely documented ozone-depleting chemicals into the U.S., we are protecting the health of Americans and the ozone layer as well."

The investigation was conducted ICE HSI in Miami, EPA's Criminal Investigation Division, Atlanta Area Office, and the Miami-Dade Police Department's Environmental Investigation Unit.

The case was prosecuted by Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Jodi A. Mazer.