Judge OKs fuel-dumping fine - Environmental penalties charged against farming businesses

December 10th, 2003

By Chris Mulick Tri City Herald staff writer

YAKIMA, WA-- A federal judge accepted a plea agreement Tuesday in which Royal City's Brown Boys Feed Inc. accepted guilt for illegally dumping diesel fuel at a work site near Vantage.

It's the first criminal admission for brothers Mike and Gerald "Spud" Brown, who have paid thousands in civil penalties in recent years for a series of environmental misdeeds committed by their farming businesses.

Under the plea agreement, the Browns must pay a $35,000 fine, payable in monthly installments of $1,458.30 over a two-year probationary period.

Mike Brown, dressed in a gray suit with a collared shirt and no tie, left the courtroom, declining comment after the brief sentencing hearing.

"It should send a message," said Joye Redfield-Wilder, spokeswoman for the state Department of Ecology. "Eventually, all these activities have caught up with the Browns."

Federal prosecutors originally indicted Brown Boys on three counts of unlawful disposal of hazardous waste. Diesel contains benzene, which is classified as a hazardous waste. Brown Boys also paid $46,000 to have the dump site cleaned up.

The incident occurred after the Washington State Patrol discovered several truck drivers for the company were illegally using untaxed diesel fuel -- which is to be used only by vehicles on farms -- while driving along the Old Vantage Highway on Aug. 7 and 8, 2001.

The drivers were later instructed by their supervisor to dump the fuel, often called red fuel because of its distinct color, into a pit.

Prosecutors reduced the charges to a single count as part of the plea arrangement, which also requires Brown Boys Feed to disclose financial information, including federal tax returns, to a probation officer.

The company does not appear to be financially healthy, according to financial data obtained by prosecutors to help determine a proper fine. Assistant U.S. Attorney Bud Ellis said the company has run in the red the last three years.

"It's essentially bankrupt," he said. "The corporation basically has no assets."

The book is not necessarily closed on the Browns, Redfield-Wilder said. Regulators will monitor all the Browns' businesses to ensure compliance with environmental laws.

The Browns, the subject of a July 2002 Herald investigative report, have a lengthy history of running afoul of state and federal authorities, and have racked up thousands of dollars in fines for air and water quality violations and others. Fines paid to the Department of Ecology alone total $125,000.

Only a $10,000 fine for dumping silage waste on a snow-covered field in southwestern Grant County in January remains outstanding.

"Most of the fines they have paid," Redfield-Wilder said. "It was almost as if it was the cost of doing business."


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