On August 1, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Anchorage officially charged Arne Fuglvog, a veteran commercial fisherman and the fisheries aide to U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, with the crime of poaching wild Alaskan fish. His crimes led to an eventual charge and sentencing for misdemeanor violation of the Lacey Act, which protects wildlife, fish, and plants from illegal trafficking. Fuglvog signed a plea agreement in April, in which he admits to falsifying commercial catch records and selling over 30 tons of illegally caught sablefish for nearly $100,000, reports the Alaska Dispatch:
While working as a commercial fisherman in 2005, Fuglvog took 63,000 pounds of sablefish from an area near Yakutat, more than twice what his permits allowed, according to details provided in the plea deal Fuglvog signed, which was also made public on Monday. After overfishing, Fuglvog falsified reports to cover up the take, stating that the fish had instead been harvested from an area known as the 'Central Gulf,’ according to prosecutors.
And, in a masterful feat of multi-tasked hypocrisy, Fuglvog committed the crimes while serving both as Murkowski's fisheries advisor and on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.
Environmental criminals like Fuglvog hold a special place in the annals of scumbaggery, not just because their crimes are the product of greed and neglect, but because their crimes affect the very stuff of life: the food, water, and air that we all need to survive.
Tyler Amon, a Special Agent in Charge with the EPA's Criminal Investigation Division, believes environmental crimes are motivated by two things: economics and ego. Environmental criminals, he says, "often have a history of [environmental crime] and their ability to manipulate the regulations for years leads them to be bolder", to commit more significant violations. They think to themselves, "nobody is watching and I won't get caught."
From lousy to loathsome, here’s a look at some other environmental criminals whose crimes have affected the West in recent years:
The Sin City Scammer
Perp: Joseph DeMatteo
Crime: Falsifying vehicle emissions test reports in violation of the Clean Air Act
Dirty Deeds: Over a period of two years, DeMatteo, a Nevada-certified emissions tester from Las Vegas, allegedly engaged in "clean scanning", a scam in which emissions testers replace the identification number of a vehicle that will not pass an emissions test with one from a vehicle that will pass and then sell the falsified inspection report for an inflated price.
Learn More: Read an Occupational Health and Safety Online article about the Vegas "clean scanning" scams
Idaho's Lowdown Dairy
Perp: Mike Vierstra, owner of Vierstra Dairy
Crime: Vierstra violated the Clean Water Act by negligently discharging a pollutant into U.S. waters without a permit
Dirty Deeds: On three separate occasions in 2009, Mike Vierstra, owner of Vierstra Dairy—a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) in Twin Falls, Idaho—illegally discharged animal wastewater into Low Line Canal. According to a United States Department of Justice press release, the dairy had a lengthy history of waste-discharge violations. However, Vierstra claimed that an unknown third party had uncapped the pipe that was discharging the wastewater without his knowledge.
Learn More: Read the U.S. Department of Justice press release
D.C.'s Duplicitous Deputy
Perp: Julie A. MacDonald, former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks under the Bush Administration
Crime: Subverting public trust and abusing her authority by interfering in and inappropriately influencing endangered species decision-making.
State: Washington, D.C.
Dirty Deeds: In 2007, MacDonald resigned from her post amid allegations that she had, despite her non-existent biology background, regularly challenged field biologists, overrode their work, altered scientific reports and documents to favor industrial and agricultural interests, and inappropriately influenced management decisions for endangered species like the sage grouse, Klamath River Basin bull trout, and California red-legged frog.
Learn More: Read the Office of Inspector General investigative report on MacDonald.
The Villain of Soda Springs
Perp: Allen Elias, owner of Evergreen Resources
Crime: Elias violated the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act by storing and disposing of hazardous waste without a permit knowing his actions put others in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury.
Dirty Deeds: Elias, the owner of Evergreen Resources, a company in Soda Springs, Idaho that converted mining waste to fertilizer, ordered two workers, Darren Weaver and Scott Dominguez, to clean out an enclosed, sludge-filled storage tank. Though Elias knew the sludge was laced with cyanide, he didn’t tell the workers or give them safety training or equipment. On the second day of cleaning, Dominguez collapsed and had to be carried out of the tank. He was hospitalized for severe cyanide poisoning.
Learn More: Listen to the "Living on Earth" interview with author and former EPA agent Joe Hilldorfer about his book "The Cyanide Canary", which chronicles the case.
Marian Lyman Kirst is an intern for HCN
Image courtesy Flickr user angus mcciarmid