TRENTON – Two top officials of the East Orange Water Commission (EOWC) – the executive director and the assistant executive director – have been indicted for allegedly conspiring to manipulate the agency’s water supply by shutting down contaminated wells prior to monthly water tests so as to falsify results and report lower levels of a regulated contaminant in the drinking water supplied to customers, Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa announced.
The Division of Criminal Justice obtained a state grand jury indictment yesterday charging Harry L. Mansmann, 58, of Lawrenceville, executive director of the EOWC, and William Mowell, 51, of Wyckoff, the assistant executive director and engineer for the EOWC, with conspiracy (2nd degree), multiple counts of official misconduct (2nd degree), pattern of official misconduct (2nd degree), unlawful release of a toxic pollutant (2nd degree), multiple counts of violating the New Jersey Safe Drinking Water Act (3rd degree), violating the New Jersey Water Pollution Control Act (3rd degree), and tampering with public records or information (3rd degree).
The indictment stems from an investigation by the Environmental Crimes Unit of the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau, which resulted from a referral by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Compliance & Enforcement Program. Mansmann and Mowell allegedly conspired to falsify mandatory testing of the EOWC’s water supply to hide elevated levels of the contaminant tetrachlorethene (PERC), an industrial solvent used for dry cleaning and other purposes which is classified as a probable carcinogen.
“It is absolutely unconscionable that the two top directors responsible for ensuring the quality and safety of drinking water supplied to tens of thousands of residents in East Orange and South Orange would deliberately manipulate sampling to hide the fact that the water supply contained elevated levels of a contaminant, as is alleged in this indictment,” said Chiesa. “These defendants rightfully face serious criminal charges.”
“Working with the DEP, our investigators thoroughly chronicled the actions of these two officials who allegedly manipulated the water supply prior to sampling on multiple occasions, cherry picked the test results they reported to the DEP on another occasion, and pumped water from their most contaminated well into the Passaic River without a permit for nearly a month,” said Director Stephen J. Taylor of the Division of Criminal Justice. “Their alleged conduct is shocking.”
Following the alleged criminal conduct, the DEP conducted independent tests of the East Orange water system, and samples showed PERC levels slightly above state standards but within federal safe drinking water parameters. The DEP is continuing to monitor the system.
The EOWC supplies drinking water to East Orange and also has a contract to supply drinking water to South Orange. The water is pumped from well fields in eastern Morris and western Essex counties through a pumping station in Millburn to two reservoirs, from which water is distributed to customers. The utility blends water from its various wells at its treatment plant before water is distributed to customers. The EOWC has encountered problems with elevated levels of PERC in several wells.
Mansmann and Mowell allegedly directed that the contaminated wells be turned off several days prior to taking samples for testing and then turned back on for pumping to the reservoir after sampling. In this manner, they allegedly falsified test results to comply with the DEP requirement that the running annual average level of PERC under normal operating conditions not exceed 1 microgram per liter (ug/L) or part per billion (results up to 1.49 ug/L are rounded down to 1).
The indictment charges the defendants with specific instances of false sampling, when they allegedly shut down a contaminated well or wells prior to sampling in November 2010, March 2011, and April 2011 in order to artificially reduce levels of PERC from the levels present under normal operating conditions. The indictment also charges them with falsifying the April 2011 compliance sample by taking multiple samples and submitting the sample containing the lowest level of PERC as the compliance sample for April 2011 in violation of DEP requirements. Four water samples tested in April 2011 revealed PERC levels of 1.96 ug/L, 1.71 ug/L, 1.58 ug/L and 0.788 ug/L. The result of 0.788 ug/L was the only result that the defendants submitted to the DEP
The indictment further charges that Mansmann and Mowell directed that the well with the most PERC contamination, which had been found to have PERC levels as high as 25 ug/L – or 25 times the permitted level under the New Jersey Safe Drinking Water Act and nearly twice the level permitted for discharges in connection with remediation projects under the New Jersey Water Pollution Control Act – be pumped to a pipe that discharged directly onto the bank of the Passaic River in Florham Park from March 24 through April 20, 2011. They allegedly did that in an effort to flush the contaminant out of the well. That is the alleged basis for the charges of unlawful release of a toxic pollutant and violation of the New Jersey Water Pollution Control Act.
In addition, the indictment alleges that, when the DEP required the EOWC to issue a public notice about non-compliant PERC levels in the system, the defendants issued a notice in July 2011 falsely stating that the EOWC had reduced pumping from certain wells on an ongoing basis and, as a result, tests during the first half of 2011 revealed levels under the DEP limit. It is alleged that, in fact, they only reduced pumping from contaminated wells temporarily for sampling, and PERC levels had exceeded the limit.
Deputy Attorney General Phillip Leahy presented the indictment to the state grand jury for the Environmental Crimes Unit of the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau. The investigation was conducted by Deputy Attorney General Leahy, Sgt. Steven J. Ogulin, Detective Dawn Ryan, Detective Matthew Schneiderman and former Detective Michael Klumpp. The DEP provided assistance throughout the investigation. The East Orange Water Commission has cooperated fully in the investigation.
Second-degree crimes carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000, while third-degree crimes carry a sentence of three to five years in state prison and a fine of up to $15,000. The third-degree counts of violation of the New Jersey Safe Drinking Water Act carry potential additional fines of $5,000 to $50,000 for each day that the violation occurred, and the count of third-degree violation of the New Jersey Water Pollution Control Act carries potential additional fines of $5,000 to $75,000 for each day that the violation occurred.
The indictment is merely an accusation and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. The indictment was handed up to Superior Court Judge Mary C. Jacobson in Mercer County, who assigned the case to Essex County, where the defendants will be ordered to appear in court at a later date.
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