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EPA Investigations Lead to Prison Sentences for Two in Puerto Rico

Release Date: 02/03/2009
Contact Information: Michael Ortiz (212) 637-3670, ortiz.michael@epa.gov

(San Juan, P.R.) A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) investigation into Clean Water Act violations in Puerto Rico has led to prison sentences for two defendants convicted of engaging in a scheme that involved the dumping of raw sewage into the Jimenez Creek, a tributary of the Espiritu Santo River. Braulio Agosto Vega, his company, Braulio Agosto Motors, Inc., and Juan Agosto Vega were originally indicted in May 2005, by a federal grand jury in Puerto Rico on three counts of violations of the Clean Water Act and one count of conspiracy to violate the act.

Juan Agosto Vega, Braulio’s brother, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to one year in prison, a fine of $10,000 and 104 hours of community service at a recycling plant. Braulio Agosto Vega and his company, Braulio Agosto Motors, Inc, went to trial in June 2008. On July 24, 2008, a jury found both guilty all four counts of the indictment. Last December, Braulio Agosto Vega was sentenced to two years of imprisonment, a fine of $35, 000 and three years of supervised release with community service. His company was sentenced to three years of probation, a fine of $75,000, and is required to continue emptying overflowing septic tanks in an appropriate manner.

“EPA will not tolerate criminal conduct that is noxious to the environment and people’s health,” said George Pavlou, EPA Acting Regional Administrator. “Violators will be held accountable for their actions and EPA will continue to enforce laws that protect the environment and the people of Puerto Rico.”

EPA worked closely with other federal agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), to form the case around the defendants that ultimately led to their conviction.

The investigation began when EPA’s San Juan office received a letter from a concerned citizen. The letter included a photograph of a truck registered under Braulio Agosto Motors, Inc. dumping raw sewage into Jimenez Creek. An EPA enforcement officer was sent to the site to investigate the claim. EPA, in conjunction with the Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board, took samples that indicated the body of water had been impacted. FBI located witnesses from the Rio Grade area and gathered testimony.

According to the indictment, from October 2004 through March 2005, a Braulio Agosto Motors Inc. registered truck discharged septic waste into a storm drain that emptied into the Jimenez Creek, a tributary of the Espiritu Santo River. The Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority has a water intake for the El Yunque Filtration plant, which serves approximately 80,000 residents, in the river.

The Clean Water Act is a statute that employs a variety of regulatory and non-regulatory tools to sharply reduce direct pollutant discharged into waterways, finance municipal wastewater treatment facilities, and manage polluted runoff.

For more information on the Clean Water Act, please visit http://www.epa.gov/oecaagct/lcwa.html

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