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Crime & Courts

Feds charge second seafood plant employee for covering up emission violations

  • Author: Jerzy Shedlock
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published August 9, 2014

Federal prosecutors in Alaska have charged a previously unnamed Dutch Harbor seafood plant employee with a Clean Air Act violation, stemming from allegations he falsified emissions forms that were then used unwittingly by his employer.

Raul Morales faces a single charge for violating the federal law that regulates air pollutant emissions. The government filed a plea agreement on Tuesday. Morales is set to enter his plea on Aug. 21. He faces up to two years in prison and a $500,000 fine.

Morales worked as the powerhouse supervisor at Westward Seafood Inc.'s Dutch Harbor facility. The company is a subsidiary of Japan-based Maruha-Nichiro Holdings Inc., which maintains a headquarters in Seattle. It processes 254 million pounds of seafood each year.

The plant produces its own electricity with three diesel-fueled generators, as well as steam for fish production using two diesel-fired steam generators. Westward holds a Clean Air Act permit, which requires the use of systems that saturate the air, decreasing the nitrogen dioxide emissions discharging through the plant's single smokestack, according to the plea agreement.

Those emissions-cutting systems were scarcely in use from August 2009 to August 2011, according to the charges against two men. Former Westward employee Bryan Beigh crafted a makeshift tool to make the dials on the systems' water gauges spin in an attempt to cover up the disuse.

In the charges against Beigh filed last week, an unnamed supervisor conspired with Beigh to falsify the gauges' readings on paperwork. Now the government has outlined how Morales allegedly duped Westward's environmental compliance office.

Beigh has agreed to plead guilty, according to federal prosecutor Kevin Feldis. He monitored and repaired equipment in the powerhouse.

As powerhouse supervisor, Morales was responsible for all aspects of the engine room, including the generators, the plea agreement says. Part of the job required reports that measured the saturation systems' water use.

Instead of properly filling out reports, "Defendant Morales used a preprinted sheet which he would consult to determine, based on how long the engine had been operating on any particular day, how much water the (systems) would have used had it been in operation," the plea agreement says.

The false information about water usage "was unwittingly used for Westward's semi-annual operating reports and annual compliance certifications," the plea agreement says, adding there appeared to be no deviations from permit requirements when, in fact, "there were gross violations."

Westward said in a prepared statement that the company first uncovered the illegal acts of Beigh and "other rogue employees" in September 2011. The employees were immediately fired and federal authorities were contacted, according to the statement.

"We have a zero-tolerance policy for any behavior of this nature," said Westward President Rick Dutton. "The charged ex-employee, and others who participated in this scheme, fabricated documents, lied to their supervisors, and acted in a manner that is entirely contrary to the company's values and policies. We have redoubled our compliance efforts to ensure that this will never happen again."

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