By Jason A. Smith
A Locust Grove couple has pleaded guilty to conspiring to illegally dispose of hazardous waste.
John and Jennifer Duffey, both 38, entered their pleas Thursday in federal district court.
The couple was investigated for reportedly dumping the waste while conducting military training exercises through their company, Joint Military Development Services (JMDS).
According to Susan Coppedge, the assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case, a former employee of the couple's alerted the Environmental Protection Agency to the case.
"[The] employee, who had been fired from JMDS, came forward to the EPA's Criminal Investigative Division with information about the disposal," said Coppedge.
The illegal disposals reportedly began in October 2008. A written statement from Patrick Crosby, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, said that the Duffeys purchased approximately 560 "napalm bursts" for use in the military exercises.
"These napalm bursts are explosives and contain the federally-listed hazardous waste called napthalene," Crosby wrote. "On two separate occasions, Jennifer Duffey instructed an employee to dig a hole in the woods on property adjacent to the warehouse, out of which JMDS operated, and bury the napthalene. This property belonged to a third party, who was unaware that hazardous waste had been buried on their land."
Crosby said JMDS did not have a permit from the EPA to conduct the disposals.
"After the first illegal disposal in mid-October 2008, the employee who had been ordered to dispose of the product complained of the smell, and stated it caused him to have a headache," Crosby wrote. "For the second disposal in mid-November 2008, John Duffey instructed another employee to get masks so that the strong, noxious odor would not affect them while they dug a hole and buried the remaining napalm bursts."
According to Crosby, John Duffey monitored the employees who disposed of the hazardous waste in November. Jennifer Duffey, wrote the spokesman, told the employees to cover the disposal site with fallen leaves and a pallet.
Prosecutors allege that John Duffey attempted to hide the crime, by providing a false time line of his and his wife's activities. "The defendants not only engaged in a conspiracy to illegally dispose of naphthalene -- exposure to which can cause liver and neurological damage -- but also tried to cover up their crime," said Maureen O'Mara, Special Agent in Charge of EPA's Criminal Enforcement office in Atlanta. "Those who 'cut corners' and put the public or the environment at risk will be prosecuted."
In addition to the couple's guilty pleas on the illegal dumping charge, John Duffey admitted to obstructing witnesses. The Duffeys could be sentenced to five years in prison, and a fine of up to $250,000.
Sentencing in the case is set for March 4, at 9:30 a.m., in United States District Court.