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Bozeman men sentenced in USA Brass lead-contamination case

Posted at 2:00 PM, Nov 17, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-17 16:00:11-05

Two Bozeman men were sentenced in U.S. District Court this week for illegally discharging lead-contaminated water into a public sewer system, according to U.S. Attorney Kurt G. Alme.

The two men were operators of USA Brass, a company that cleaned and recycled spent ammunition casings.
On Thursday, Chief U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen sentenced Zachary Daniel Flanagan, 27, of Bozeman, to five years of probation and imposed a $50,000 fine.

On Friday, the judge sentenced co-defendant Nolan Michael Schimpf, 27, of Bozeman, to five years of probation and imposed a $50,000 fine.

Flanagan, the chief executive officer, pleaded guilty on Aug. 9, 2018 to making a false statement, a felony, while Schimpf, the company’s chief production officer, pleaded guilty the same day to negligent discharge of pollutants, a misdemeanor.

“The defendants violated the city’s wastewater pretreatment program when they discharged lead contaminated wastewater into the public sewer system,” said Jeffrey Martinez, special agent in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Criminal Investigative Division in Montana.

“Defendant Flanagan falsified information to obtain permission for the discharges, and in doing so jeopardized the public’s health and safety. Today’s sentencing demonstrates that violators can expect to face prosecution,” Martinez said.

An investigation found illegal discharges into the City of Bozeman’s public wastewater treatment system occurred in the fall of 2013. USA Brass brought in spent ammunition casings from military bases, shooting ranges and recycling centers, cleaned and polished the brass casings and then sold them for reuse. The casings were placed in cement mixers where they were cleaned in a water and vinegar solution. After cleaning, the wastewater was drained from the cement mixers and collected in blue totes, which held about 300 gallons each. During the cleaning process, the wastewater became contaminated with lead, which is a toxic metal. The lead in the wastewater was high enough to be considered a pollutant under the Clean Water Act.

In November 2013, Flanagan contacted by email Dustin Johnson, the pretreatment coordinator of the Bozeman wastewater facility, to try to get permission for USA Brass to discharge lead wastewater into the city sewer system. Johnson told Flanagan he would have to get the wastewater analyzed and submit test results. Flanagan submitted lab test results and a signed wastewater survey in which he maintained the information about the cleaning process was true and accurate. Flanagan asked to dispose of the wastewater through the sewer saying it met all city standards.

Flanagan followed up the request in December with another email to Johnson seeking approval to dispose the wastewater through the sewer and told him that an environmental analyst who reviewed the lab results said it would be fine to send the wastewater down the sewer.

However, Flanagan’s statements to Johnson were false because he knew that an environmental consultant had not reviewed the lab results and concluded the wastewater would be fine for discharge to the public system.

On the same day in December, Johnson responded to Flanagan’s email and, based on Flanagan’s false statements, authorized the discharge of the lead wastewater into the sewer system.

When Johnson learned that Flanagan had provided him false information, he told investigators he would never have granted the company permission to discharge the wastewater.

The investigation also found that in September 2013, USA Brass installed a sink in the facility to dispose of the lead wastewater into the city sewer system. Employees reported that the blue totes containing the wastewater were moved to the sink on a forklift and the contents were pumped into the sink until the totes were empty. A filtration system was abandoned after a few days because it got clogged.

Flanagan and Schimpf were present on more than one occasion as the wastewater was being pumped down the sink but neither stopped the discharge or sought permission for the discharge.

By being present and doing nothing to stop the unauthorized discharges, Schimpf negligently causing the wastewater to be discharged.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Bryan Whittaker and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric E. Nelson and investigated by the EPA. Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Racicot represented the U.S. Attorney’s Office at sentencing.