Although Daniel W. Cason, 66, pleaded guilty to three federal crimes in March, Mr. Cason declared Tuesday, I am not a criminal.
Violating the Clean Water Act, however, is a federal offense because the American people want clean water and must trust those in charge of water treatment plants to do their jobs faithfully, countered Assistant U.S. Attorney David Stewart.
By pleading guilty, Mr. Cason admitted he was responsible for the use of a portable pump to transfer water out of a retention pond and into the nearby tributary of Euchee Creek in January 2004.
At the time, the employees had stopped storing wastewater in the pond, testified Todd Baldwin, who worked at the treatment plant in January 2004. They were trying to empty the pond in order to install a clay liner. They thought the water in the pond came from rain or ground water, although the wastewater did back up into the pond on three occasions, he testified.
Mr. Cason and the other workers at the plant assumed the water was not a hazard, said defense attorney Pete Theodocion. It would have been better to have sent the water through the treatment plant before releasing it, he said, but there was no proof that the release contaminated the water supply.
Under the Clean Water Act, the government does not have to present evidence of the amount of contamination, U.S. District Judge J. Randal Hall ruled. While Mr. Casons case wasnt the worse case of possible contamination, neither was it a harmless mistake. Judge Hall said he found it incredible that anyone working in a wastewater treatment plant would not know it was a violation of the Clean Water Act.
Mr. Cason faced a potential sentence of 18 to 24 months under the federal sentencing guidelines. But Judge Hall determined Mr. Cason was entitled a lesser sentence.
Mr. Cason, whose supporters filled the small federal courtroom, is a decorated Vietnam War combat veteran. He had never been convicted of any crime until this case. He has been married for 47 years and raised three sons. His minister and friends described him as a man of deep faith, honesty and good deeds.
Judge Hall said he was taking that into account, but he also needed to impress on other public works directors and employees just how serious the Clean Water Act is, especially in times of budget cuts when some might be tempted to cut corners to reduce costs.
Mr. Cason, who ran the Harlem public works department until May, remains free on bond. He will report to a federal prison at 2 p.m. Jan. 18. The Federal Bureau of Prison will determine where Mr. Cason serves his sentence.
Mr. Cason was also fined $3,000. He must perform 100 hours of community service while on probation for one year after his release from prison.