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MT man sentenced, fined for wire fraud in dumping of radioactive drilling waste

Belgrade man sentenced, fined for wire fraud in dumping of radioactive drilling waste
Posted at 1:30 PM, Oct 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-23 15:30:42-04

GREAT FALLS — A Belgrade man who admitted dumping radioactive contaminants from oil drilling at an abandoned gas station in North Dakota instead of properly disposing of the waste as hired to do has been sentenced to four months in prison, which was the time he had served in custody, and two years of supervised release, U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme said.

James Kenneth Ward, 58, pleaded guilty in July to wire fraud.

Chief U.S. District Judge Brian M. Morris presided. Chief Judge Morris also ordered Ward to pay a $2,500 fine and $9,977 restitution.

"Mr. Ward's actions not only defrauded a company that had hired him to properly dispose of oil drilling waste but they also put the environment and the public at risk by deliberately abandoning the contaminated materials at an unsecure, defunct gas station property. Those who poison the environment for personal gain will be caught and prosecuted," U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme said.

“The defendant, in this case, engaged in a fraudulent scheme that resulted in a serious threat to public health in the form of improperly disposed of radioactive waste,” said Lance Ehrig, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of EPA’s Criminal Enforcement Program in Montana. “Today’s sentencing demonstrates the EPA’s commitment to protecting public health and holding accountable those who defraud consumers.”

The prosecution said in court documents that from 2011 until 2014, Ward contracted with Zenith Produced Water, LLC, to properly incinerate and dispose of filter socks, which are tubular nets that collect pollutants and radioactive materials from saltwater produced from drilling and developing oil.

Zenith Produced Water, a Colorado company that owned and operated saltwater disposal wells, paid Ward $9,977 to properly dispose of the filter socks. Instead of disposing of the filter socks as agreed, Ward dumped the filter socks at an abandoned gas station in Noonan, N.D.

Zenith Produced Water would never have paid Ward the money if it knew he was going to dump the filter socks in an abandoned gas station. Ward deposited some of the checks he received from Zenith Produced Water in a bank in Deer Lodge.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Weldon and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric E. Nelson prosecuted the case, which was investigated by the Environmental Protection Agency's Criminal Investigation Division.