The good news, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Stratospheric Ozone Protection Progress Report, is that "The ozone layer has not grown thinner since 1998 over most of the world, and it appears to be recovering because of reduced emission of ozone-depleting substances (ODS)." More good news is that the EPA and other federal agencies, including Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), are investigating and arresting criminals who break environmental laws enacted to protect and heal the planet's protective stratospheric shell.
HSI Supervisory Special Agent James Weir and HSI Special Agent Giddel Casadesus, both from the Commercial Fraud Group of ICE's HSI Special Agent in Charge (SAC) Miami, are U.S. EPA Montreal Protocol Award recipients and will be honored at a ceremony on September 23, 2010 at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C., along with others, for their work in a joint EPA-ICE investigation. Under the Montreal Protocol, the U.S. and world community are restricting production and import of ODS, including hydrochloroflurocarbons (HCFCs).
"We congratulate the award winners on their accomplishments in protecting our Earth's ozone layer," said Drusilla Hufford, director of the EPA's Stratospheric Protection Division. "They are sending strong signals that illegal importation of HCFC-22 into the U.S. is not acceptable; we must adhere to our commitments under the Montreal Protocol and protect our environment for future generations."
The award recipients, along with a task force that included state and local law enforcement officers from Miami, brought to justice 44-year-old Miami resident James Garrido, who was smuggling into the United States a highly-restricted refrigerant known as HCFC-22 or R-22. R-22 is used in residential heat pump and air-conditioning systems, but is so environmentally damaging that it's being phased out with a complete ban starting in 2030.
The suspected environmental malfeasance came to light through a tip-off from the ICE-led National Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Center, the multi-agency federal government clearing house for investigations into IPR crimes.
The subsequent investigation led Casadesus and officials from U.S. Customs and Border Protection to closely examine three containers at the Miami seaport. On opening the shipping containers, cylinders of legal refrigerant were found on top. When investigators "tunneled through," however, they found hidden R-22. The shipment originated in China and traveled to the Dominican Republic before entering the United States. Federal agents followed the containers' path, which led them to Garrido.
The fair market value of Garrido's 11 illegal shipments of 418,654 kilograms of R-22 from March 2007 until law enforcement authorities confronted him in April 2009, in fact, totaled more than $3.9 million.
Garrido pleaded guilty in November 2009 in federal district court in Miami to charges related to illegally smuggling restricted ODS into the U.S. in violation of the Clean Air Act and other laws. In February 2010, Garrido was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison, and his import company, Kroy Corporation, was sentenced to five years of probation. They must jointly pay $40,000 in fines and forfeit $1.3 million to the United States.
Garrido's tangled web of connections stretched to distributors, including Mar-Cone Appliance Parts Co., (Marcone) who bought the illegal ODS Garrido was selling. Marcone pled guilty to knowingly receiving, buying, selling and facilitating the transportation, concealment and sale of R-22. On March 18, 2010, Marcone was sentenced to five years probation and ordered to pay $500,000 in criminal fines. Marcone was also ordered to perform community service by making a $400,000 payment to the Southern Environmental Enforcement Training Fund, a not-for-profit training organization. Additionally, Marcone was ordered to forfeit his illicit proceeds of $190,534.70 to the U.S. government.
During the investigation, Casadesus said EPA Criminal Investigation Division and ICE worked closely together examining containers, interviewing parties, gathering evidence, coordinating with the U.S. Attorney's Office and coordinating all the moving parts of the investigation.
"The illegal importation of ozone depleting substances makes everyone and everything on earth vulnerable to the harmful effects of UV radiation," said Maureen O'Mara, Special Agent-in-Charge of EPA's Office of Criminal Enforcement in Atlanta. "This prosecution against those who try to import and distribute ozone depleting substances illegally was a textbook example of how federal law enforcement agencies and their international partners work cooperatively and effectively to protect the public and the environment."
"We will continue to vigorously investigate those who are determined to line their pockets with the proceeds of crimes against the environment," said ICE/HSI SAC Miami Anthony V. Mangione.
For information regarding ozone layer protection and sun safety, click on any of the EPA provided links below.