Ex Supervisor Faces Prison, $250,000 Fine for Falsifying Drinking Water Reports
Christopher Neil Gauntt, the former supervisor of the Fort Gibson Water Treatment Plant in Fort Gibson, Okla., pleaded guilty April 29 in U.S. District Court in Muskogee, Okla., to falsifying a monthly operating report that certified the safety of drinking water from the facility, the Justice Department announced.
Gauntt pleaded guilty to a one-count information charging him with a felony count of making a false statement. He admitted that on or about June 12, 2008, he submitted a monthly operating report containing false data for drinking water that is provided to residents of Fort Gibson as well as residents of Muskogee Rural Water Districts 4 and 7, Cherokee Water drinking water systems, and the water systems for Corral Creek Subdivision and Ozark Water Inc.
Under the federal Safe Water Drinking Act, which is administered and enforced by the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, as well as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency EPA, the Fort Gibson water treatment plant must provide drinking water that meets standards to ensure that the water is safe for human consumption. Two of the standards that must be met include turbidity and chlorine. If turbidity, the measure of clarity of drinking water, or chlorine levels are not within levels required by the Safe Drinking Water Act, there is a potential risk that the water could retain microorganisms that carry waterborne diseases.
Gauntt admitted that he recorded levels in the monthly operating report submitted to Oklahoma DEQ that indicated the turbidity and chlorine levels were in compliance with required standards when he knew in fact they were not. In August 2008, Fort Gibson had sent a notice concerning this to residents who receive their drinking water from the Fort Gibson water treatment plant. Fort Gibson did not receive any information that anyone experienced any ill effects from the drinking water during that time period.
"All citizens should be confident that they are receiving drinking water that is safe for consumption. Those who knowingly compromise the regulatory protections of the Safe Drinking Water Act will be prosecuted," said John C. Cruden, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. "The prosecution in this case demonstrates that the government vigorously acts to ensure all of our citizens have good drinking water and the Safe Drinking Water Act's requirements are being complied with."
Warren Amburn, special agent in charge of EPA's criminal enforcement program in Dallas, echoed that sentiment: "Accurate information is essential for the federal government and the State of Oklahoma to assure good drinking water for the public," he said. "Individuals who submit false reports or bogus data undermine those efforts and they will be vigorously pursued."
Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson noted, "Falsifying information about the safety of the drinking water supply is dangerous. Ensuring an adequate supply of safe, clean water is an important public health issue. We will continue to work with our partners at all levels of government to protect the people of this state and the water they drink."
As a result of the felony conviction, Gauntt could be sentenced up to five years in prison and fined up to $250,000.
The case was prosecuted by the Department of Justice Environmental Crimes Section and was investigated by EPA's Criminal Investigation and the Oklahoma Attorney General's Office. For questions regarding the case, contact DOJ's Environmental Crimes Section at (202) 305-0321.