By Peter H. Milliken
Ben Lupo will know in June if he’ll be sent to a federal prison or get probation.
Lupo, 63, of Poland, pleaded guilty in the dumping of oil-field waste into a Mahoning River tributary. A federal prosecutor said he’ll ask the judge to sentence Lupo to three years in prison, which is the maximum the law allows.
“It’s appropriate given the conduct,” said Brad J. Beeson, the assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting the case.
Lupo entered his plea in Cleveland before Judge Donald C. Nugent of U.S. District Court, who will sentence him at 10 a.m. June 16.
Lupo; his company, Hardrock Excavating LLC; and his employee, Michael P. Guesman, 35, of Cortland, were charged with violating the Clean Water Act.
Judge Nugent sentenced Guesman, who had pleaded guilty last Aug. 29, to three years’ probation and 300 hours of community service, but imposed no fine or restitution on him.
The available sentencing range for the charge is probation to three years in prison, followed by a year of supervised release, and a fine up to $250,000.
“We are pleased the defendant admitted to his actions, which caused great harm to the Mahoning River,” Steven M. Dettelbach, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, said of Lupo.
“We will continue to aggressively investigate and prosecute cases in which people pollute Ohio’s waterways,” Dettelbach added.
“Ben Lupo put his own business interests ahead of the health and safety of our citizens, natural resources and wildlife. ... He will now be held accountable for this terrible crime,” said Mike DeWine, Ohio attorney general.
Judge Nugent ordered a pre-sentence investigation, which will include an examination of Lupo’s finances.
Guesman said he dumped brine and drilling mud from 20,000-gallon storage tanks on Salt Springs Road in Youngstown down a storm drain and into the tributary at Lupo’s direction on 24 nights beginning Dec. 12, 2012.
Federal prosecutors agreed to recommend favorable consideration for Guesman at his sentencing in exchange for his acceptance of responsibility and “substantial assistance” to the prosecution.
The investigation of the case was triggered by a Jan. 31, 2013, discharge of brine, oil-based drilling mud and drill cuttings that resulted in a massive cleanup that used specialized contractors and cost more than $1 million.
Hazardous pollutants in that discharge included benzene and toluene, the U.S. attorney said.
The case was investigated by the U.S. and Ohio environmental protection agencies, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the Youngstown fire and public works departments.
Beeson said the case against Hardrock still needs to be resolved by a guilty plea or a trial.
Lupo is represented by Attys. Joseph W. Gardner of Canfield and Roger M. Synenberg of Cleveland.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has revoked Hardrock’s brine-hauling certificate.
It also revoked all injection-well permits for another of Lupo’s companies, D&L Energy Inc.
Last November, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kay Woods approved the sale of “substantially all” of D&L’s assets for $20.7 million to Resource Land Holdings LLC of Denver, which was the highest bidder at an auction.
A fourth defendant also has been charged with violating the Clean Water Act in the dumping of oil field waste into a Mahoning River tributary.
The case against Mark A. Goff, 46, of Newton Falls, which had been filed and sealed last April, was unsealed last week.
Goff was charged in an information, which means he waived his right to be indicted by a grand jury.
The information says Goff, an employee of Hardrock, emptied waste liquid from storage tanks on Salt Springs Road in Youngstown into a stormwater drain at the direction of Hardrock’s owner, Lupo, on nine nights between Oct. 1 and Nov. 12, 2012.