House arrest for Ben Lupo would send wrong message

As he ponders the fate of Ben Lupo, the Mahoning Valley serial polluter, U.S. District Court Judge Donald C. Nugent should ask himself this question: Had Lupo not been caught polluting the Mahoning River with oil-field waste, would he have continued his criminal behavior?

The answer is an unequivocal “yes” — based on what former employees confessed to authorities and the findings of local, state and federal investigators.

Indeed, Judge Nugent should throw the book at Lupo for continuing to deny any wrongdoing even after he was caught red-handed.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Brad J. Beeson has asked Nugent to impose the maximum three-year federal prison sentence and $250,000 in fines.

As we argued in this space earlier this year, the punishment is far too mild for an individual who ordered the dumping of 20,000 gallons of oily black ooze into a Mahoning River tributary near his business.

That, coupled with the fact that Lupo forced two employees to commit a criminal act when he ordered them to dump the fracking waste into the river, should lead the federal judge to one conclusion: the former owner of Hardrock Excavating LLC is undeserving of a break.

It’s unfortunate that he has some medical issues, but the federal prison system is well equipped to deal with them.

Lupo’s lawyers are seeking probation or house arrest because “any period of incarceration will be a death sentence” for their client. Why? He won’t be doing hard time and will, in all probability, be assigned to a minimum-security penitentiary.

Judge Nugent, who received written sentencing proposals last week from the lawyers, will announce his decision Tuesday morning. Lupo, 64, has pleaded guilty to violating the federal Clean Water Act. This after two employees of Hardrock Excavating, Mark A. Goff, 46, of Newton Falls, and Michael P. Guesman, 35, of Cortland pleaded guilty to the same charge. They received three years’ probation after admitting that they repeatedly dumped the waste at Lupo’s direction.

Hazardous pollutants

The 20,000 gallons of brine water and oil waste contained hazardous pollutants, including benzene and toluene. The waste was stored in tanks and emptied into a storm sewer, eventu- ally making its way to the Mahoning River.

Even while pleading guilty, Lupo sought to downplay the extent of the pollution. He said tanks were emptied perhaps six times. However, an affidavit filed in federal court reported an employee of Lupo’s was aware of discharges “at least 20 times” since November 2012. While reviewing the evidence presented in the case, Judge Nugent may want to consider the statements of two key individuals in the Lupo investigation.

The first is from U.S. Attorney Steven M. Dettelbach of the Northern District of Ohio:

“We are pleased the defendant admitted to his actions, which caused great harm to the Mahoning River. We will continue to aggressively investigate and prosecute cases in which people pollute Ohio’s waterways.”

The other is from Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine: “Ben Lupo put his own business interests ahead of the health and safety of our citizens, our natural resources and wildlife. ... He will now be held accountable for this terrible crime.”

The maximum prison sentence and the $250,000 fine are appropriate punishment.

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