The man accused of dumping oilfield waste into a Mahoning River tributary at the direction of his boss has pleaded guilty as charged to one count of violating the federal Clean Water Act — and agreed to cooperate with the prosecution.
Michael P. Guesman, 34, of Cortland, who had initially pleaded innocent, changed his plea to guilty Thursday before U.S. District Judge Donald C. Nugent, who will sentence him at 9:30 a.m. Nov. 15.
Guesman’s boss, Ben Lupo, 62, of Poland, and Lupo’s company, Hardrock Excavating LLC, have pleaded innocent to the same charge.
Hardrock was in the oil and gas drilling industry waste storage, treatment and disposal business, but the Ohio Department of Natural Resources has revoked its brine- hauling permit.
In his plea agreement with the U.S. attorney, Guesman agrees to testify truthfully for the prosecution against Lupo and Hardrock in a trial, if necessary.
A federal grand jury indicted Lupo, Hardrock and Guesman in February after a criminal investigation by state and federal regulators found Lupo had directed Guesman to dump a mixture of brine and oil-based drilling mud down a storm drain after dark.
The indictment said the deliberate illegal discharges occurred “on numerous occasions” between Nov. 1, 2012, and Jan. 31, 2013.
The investigation was triggered by a Jan. 31 discharge that was followed by a massive cleanup that used specialized contractors and cost more than $1 million.
Guesman, who was employed by Hardrock, was ordered to discharge wastewater into the storm drain from the company’s Salt Springs Road location at least 20 times, according to a witness statement summarized in an affidavit in support of the indictment.
In his written plea agreement, Guesman admits dumping the waste from 20,000-gallon storage tanks through a hose into a stormwater drain at Lupo’s direction on 24 different nights beginning Dec. 12.
The final discharge on Jan. 31 included “several hazardous pollutants, including benzene and toluene,” the plea agreement said.
Lupo and Hardrock are scheduled for a 9:30 a.m. Sept. 16 pre-trial conference before Judge Nugent.
Violation of the Clean Water Act could bring a sentence ranging from probation to up to three years in prison, followed by one year of supervised release, and a fine up to $250,000.
A presentence investigation by the U.S. Probation Office will determine what, if any, criminal history Guesman has. If he has none, he could get probation with electronically monitored house arrest, said Brad J. Beeson, the assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting the case.
In the plea agreement, Beeson agrees to recommend favorable consideration for Guesman under the federal sentencing guidelines for his acceptance of responsibility and “substantial assistance” to the prosecution.
Beeson also agrees not to bring additional charges against Guesman for illegal activities the U.S. attorney knew about at the time of the plea agreement, or which Guesman discloses in statements to the U.S. attorney.
Guesman is represented by Carolyn M. Kucharski, a federal public defender in Cleveland.