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Miami man pleads guilty to illegal refrigerant smuggling operation

MIAMI - Brendan Clery, 34, of Miami, pleaded guilty Tuesday to knowingly importing approximately 278,256 kilograms of illegal hydro chlorofluorocarbon-22 (HCFC-22), following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Criminal Investigation Division.

The Clean Air Act (CAA) regulates air pollutants, including ozone depleting substances such as HCFC-22. The CAA and its implementing regulations established a schedule to phase out the production and importation of ozone depleting substances, with a complete ban starting in 2030. To meet its obligations under an international treaty to reduce its consumption of ozone depleting substances, the United States issued baseline consumption allowances for the production and importation of HCFC-22 to individuals and companies. To legally import HCFC-22, one must hold an unexpended consumption allowance.

According to court records and statements made in court, in 2005, Brendan Clery formed Lateral Investments, a Florida corporation, for the purpose of importing merchandise, including refrigerant gas. Clery was the president of Lateral Investments.

Between June and August 2007, he illegally smuggled large quantities of HCFC-22 into the United States to sell on the black market. At no time did he or Lateral Investments hold unexpended consumption allowances that would have allowed them to legally import the HCFC-22. During 2007, Clery illegally imported approximately 278,256 kilograms or 20,460 cylinders of restricted HCFC-22, with a market value of $1,438,270.

"The unlawful importation of goods poses a triple threat to the national security, public safety and economic well-being of the United States," said Michael Shea, deputy special agent in charge of ICE HSI in Miami. "This case is another example of ICE's partnership and aggressive approach with the U.S. Attorney's Office and EPA to protect the American public from inferior and unsafe products that illegally enter the United States and combat those who exploit our commerce system and compromise the safety of our citizens."

U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer said, "The illegal importation of ozone depleting substances threatens our well-being and endangers our environment. My office will continue to support the EPA and ICE in our efforts to enforce our nation's laws and protect our environment."
"Refrigerant gas depletes the stratospheric ozone layer, which protects people from the harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation such as skin cancer and cataracts," said EPA Special Agent in Charge Maureen O'Mara. "Today's conviction sends a clear message that those who place the public at risk in order to make illegal profits will be vigorously prosecuted."

"The effort to protect the ozone layer is a great success, but the job is not finished yet; scientists report that thinning continues to occur seasonally not just in the Antarctic, but also increasingly at the North Pole," 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 statutory maximum sentence for Clery is 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. In addition, he could be ordered to forfeit the illegal proceeds of his conduct.