- From LexisNexis® Mealey’s™ Daily Legal News.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. on May 28 pleaded guilty to six charges of violating the Clean Water Act (CWA) over its handling and disposal of hazardous wastes, pleaded guilty to violating the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) for failing to properly handle pesticides returned by customers and agreed to pay $ 81.6 million in penalties, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced (United States v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Nos. 13-0333, 13-0334. N.D., Calif.; United States v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., No. 13-cr-0135, W.D. Mo.).
The agency said the retailer submitted the pleas in response to the alleged CWA violations in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California and submitted the plea regarding the FIFRA claim in the Western District of Missouri.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles and San Francisco each filed three misdemeanor criminal charges against the company in the Central District of California, and the cases were consolidated in the Northern District of California. According to the charges, Wal-Mart did not have a program in place and failed to train employees about the proper handling, management and disposal of hazardous wastes until 2006. As a result, company employees improperly transported hazardous wastes and discarded them in municipal trash bins or, if liquid, poured them into the local sewer system.
The pleas were submitted to Magistrate Judge Joseph C. Spero. As part of the plea agreement, Wal-Mart will pay a $ 40 million criminal fine and $ 20 million to fund various community service projects, including opening a $ 6 million Retail Compliance Assistance Center that will help stores learn how to properly handle hazardous waste.
The charges brought in the Western District of Missouri stated that Wal-Mart began violating the FIFRA in 2006 as a result of its handling of returns by customers of solid and liquid pesticides. According to the allegations, company employees were instructed to send the returned materials to Greenleaf LLC, a recycling facility in Neosho, Mo., where the products would then be processed for reuse and resale. However, as a result of employee oversight, the products were mixed together and offered for resale without the proper registration, ingredients and use information required by the FIFRA. Federal prosecutors alleged that from July 2006 until February 2008, Wal-Mart transported more than 2 million pounds of regulated pesticides from its return centers to Greenleaf, which was convicted of violating the FIFRA in November 2008. Greenleaf paid a criminal penalty of $ 200,000 in 2009.
Pursuant to the plea agreement in Missouri, which was submitted to Judge John T. Maughmer, Wal-Mart will pay a criminal fine of $ 11 million and pay an additional $ 3 million to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. The company has already paid $ 3.4 million to properly remove and dispose of material from Greenleaf’s facility, the DOJ said.
Finally, the agency said the company has agreed to pay $ 7.62 million to resolve civil violations of the FIFRA and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
Raymond B. Ludwiszewski of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher in Washington and Tammy Marie Strafford of Gibson Dunn in Los Angeles are counsel for Wal-Mart.
Stacy P. Geis and J. Douglas Wilson of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Francisco and Philip Eugene Porter of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Kansas City, Mo., represent the government.