HAMMOND | A federal jury acquitted a former Gary wastewater treatment plant contractor and its employees Friday of charges it cheated on water testing results, an attorney for the company said.
The ruling followed nearly nine hours of deliberations spanning Thursday afternoon to Friday morning and eight days of trial in U.S. District Court, Hammond.
In a 23-count indictment filed in December 2010, federal authorities alleged United Water Services Inc., former Gary plant manager Dwain Bowie and plant superintendent Gregory Ciaccio intentionally tampered with wastewater-monitoring methods to meet mandated environmental standards. They are accused in a 26-count indictment of adding extra chlorine before samples were taken to test for E. coli.
“We always believed that these allegations were unfounded, and we were confident that all parties would be exonerated when the jury heard all the facts,” said Bertrand Camus, Chief Executive Officer of United Water in a prepared statement. “It was clear in this case that we complied with the scope of our contract with the Gary Sanitary District and met environmental standards – facts that were never called into question.”
United Water attorney Rich Henning reiterated that the defense team of about a dozen attorneys remained confident they would win the case.
"It was a difficult technical case, and we are certainly glad the jury was able to see we did our best in the city of Gary," Henning said in an email to The Times.
During opening trial arguments last week in Hammond federal court, defense attorneys Larry Mackey and James P. Hanlon said their clients did not conspire or falsify any tests.
Mackey told the jury in there was nothing wrong with raising chlorine levels, then taking the E. coli samples when chlorine levels were highest. He said the defendants wrote down accurate results of the tests and kept more documentation than required by law.
"We're not going to scheme to save a few pennies on a multimillion-dollar project," Mackey said.
Krishna Dighe, assistant chief of the Environmental Crimes Section of the U.S. Department of Justice, had alleged the defendants cheated on the tests to avoid U.S. Environmental Protection Agency violations.
In a post-verdict statement issued by the company Friday, United Water officials reiterated that they worked only to enhance the quality of Gary wastewater treatment.
"During the life of its contract, United Water invested millions of dollars to improve the operation of Gary’s wastewater treatment plant," according to the statement. "United Water made several major and costly infrastructure improvements to enhance environmental performance."