International Product Support Company Senior Vice President Pleads Guilty to the Illegal Purchase and Sale of Smuggled Ozone-Depleting Refrigerant Gas
Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Maureen O’Mara, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Criminal Investigation Division, Atlanta Area Office, and Alysa D. Erichs, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI), announce that defendant Carlos A. Garcia, 52, pled guilty today in connection with the illegal receipt, purchase, and sale of ozone-depleting refrigerant gas that had been smuggled into the United States contrary to the Clean Air Act, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 545.Sentencing has been scheduled before U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga for June 26, 2012. Garcia faces a statutory maximum sentence of twenty years in prison.
Garcia pled guilty to Count 4 of the Superseding Indictment, which charged him with knowingly receiving, buying, selling and facilitating the transportation, concealment, and sale of approximately 13,600 kilograms of the ozone-depleting substance hydrochlorofluorocarbon-22 (HCFC-22). HCFC-22 is a widely used refrigerant for residential heat pump and air-conditioning systems. Garcia’s employer, Mar-Cone Appliance Parts Co. (Marcone), was previously convicted and sentenced for related conduct and ordered to pay a $500,000 criminal fine, a $400,000 community service payment, and was ordered to forfeit to the United States $190,534.70 in illegal proceeds.
Federal law prohibits dealing in merchandise that is imported contrary to law. The Federal Clean Air Act regulates air pollutants including ozone depleting substances such as HCFC-22. The Clean Air Act and its implementing regulations established a schedule to phase out the production and importation of ozone-depleting substances beginning in 2002, with a complete ban starting in 2030. To meet its obligations under an international treaty to reduce its consumption of ozone-depleting substances, the United States issued baseline allowances for the production and importation of HCFC-22 to individuals and companies. In order to legally import HCFC-22, one must hold an unexpended consumption allowance.
United States Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer stated, “Our commitment to help protect the ozone layer from harmful chemicals is a long-term effort that requires the cooperation of businesses and individuals around the world. At home, we will continue to aggressively enforce federal laws that seek to protect our environment.”
EPA SAC Maureen O’Mara said, “It is undisputed that HCFC’s deplete the stratospheric ozone layer, which is critical to life on earth and protecting people from the harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation, including cancer. EPA is committed to working with ICE and other agencies to combat such criminal conduct, preventing these dangerous smuggling and distribution operations. Operation Catch-22 continues to be a great example of EPA’s successful efforts to investigate and pursue the just prosecution of blatant illegal conduct that jeopardizes public safety.”
“The smuggling of goods contrary to law poses a significant threat to national security and public safety. And in this particular case, the illegal importation posed a global hazard to our environment,” said Alysa Erichs, Special Agent in Charge of HSI in Miami. “This case is another example of HSI’s commitment to combating illicit trade along with our federal partners”
According to court records and proceedings, Garcia was the Senior Vice-President of Marcone’s Heating and Cooling Division responsible for executing legal purchases and sales of refrigerant gas. Instead Garcia engaged in a pattern of conduct to purchase and sell black market HCFC-22. The investigation revealed that the defendant would routinely seek out and arrange the purchase of HCFC-22 from various importers who did not hold the required unexpended consumption allowances, totaling approximately 55,488 kilograms of restricted HCFC-22, with a fair market value of approximately $639,458. The refrigerant gas was distributed by Marcone throughout the United States.
This matter and others involving the smuggling and distribution of ozone-depleting substances are being investigated through a multi-agency initiative known as Operation Catch-22. Operation Catch-22 has, to date, included the successful conviction of nearly a dozen individuals and corporations at every level of the refrigerant gas smuggling and distribution chain. Mr. Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of the EPA, ICE-HSI, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Criminal Investigation Bureau, and the Miami-Dade Police Department. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas A. Watts-FitzGerald and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Jodi A. Mazer.
SOURCE: The United States Attorney's Office Southern District of Florida, Press Release, 11 April 2012.