Slade Barnett should have known grease and sewers don’t mix. The would-be biofuel entrepreneur exposed himself to a potential prison sentence when his now-bankrupt Utah company Denali Industries LLC flushed tallow, vegetable oil and other greasy substances and caused extensive damage to lines serving the Lakeside Planned Industrial Park in American Fork, according to court filings.
On Friday, Barnett, 49, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to the federal crime of introducing a pollutant into a sewer system knowing that it could cause property damage. He admitted that on three occasions in 2008 his company, which made diesel from fats, violated this law, and agreed to pay $15,000 in restitution to help pay for the damage.
"This is not a case about somebody putting a little bacon grease down the sink at their home. This case is about a business introducing enough waste vegetable oil and tallow into the sewer system to cause parts of it to fail on at least three occasions within a three-month period," said U.S. Attorney David Barlow in a prepared statement Monday.
"When businesses jeopardize the sewer systems we all depend upon to keep us safe from disease, the Clean Water Act demands that we hold the leaders of these businesses personally accountable."
Twice Denali’s illegal dumping knocked out the sewer system’s lift-station pumps, which had to be replaced, and then clogged 300 feet of lines, according to his indictment.
Barnett, who now lives in Camano Island, Wash., faces up to thee years in prison and fines when Judge Tena Campbell sentences him on Jan. 16, but federal prosecutors have agreed to not "affirmatively" seek incarceration, according to his plea agreement.
A trench drain ran the length of the indoor shop where Denali conducted business. Court filings say this trench fed a grease trap, which discharged into a gravity-fed sewer line that Lakeside owned. Through a series of pumps and lift stations, Lakeside’s pressurized sewer line connected into American Fork’s municipal sewer system.
As part of the deal, prosecutors dropped a more serious charge of making false statements when he failed to say he discharged waste oil on a Timpanogos Special Service District survey.
Denali filed for bankruptcy in 2011 and is being sued by former business associates who are trying to enforce a $133,000 judgment by seizing what’s left of the company’s equipment.
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