Treatment operator pleads guilty
The owner of a solid-waste treatment plant probably won’t go to jail after pleading guilty to charges that he attempted to influence a public official and violated the minimum standards for solid waste disposal facility, a district judge said in court on Monday.
Philip Bethell, owner of Elk Springs Recycle and Recovery about 50 miles west of Craig, was set to head to trial to dispute charges of forgery and attempting to influence a public official.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment accused Bethell of forging sampling reports he submitted to the department.
But Bethell said after the hearing Monday that he decided to accept a plea agreement and not head to trial because of the burden it would place on him and his family.
District Court Judge Mich–ael O’Hara said that although Bethell’s plea could mean as many as 90 days in jail, he wouldn’t seek that punishment.
Bethell’s plea includes a four-year deferment on a Class 4 felony charge of attempting to influence a public official and a misdemeanor charge of violating the minimum standards for a solid waste disposal site. The felony charge will be dismissed after four years of successful probation, but the misdemeanor charge is not considered a deferred judgment. He will have to serve 200 hours of community service and pay about $380 in fines.
“I don’t see you as a substantial risk, that’s why I’m not sentencing you to jail time at this time,” O’Hara said to Bethell.
Violation of probation requirements can result in jail time.
But O’Hara said that he did think there was a possibility that Bethell may have allowed hazardous waste into his facility, despite testimony for the defendant in a previous hearing that it was not harmful.
“That is why we have regulations and why we have laws so the Department of Health can monitor,” O’Hara said.
Bethell is being sued in a separate civil case by the CDPHE. The department alleges that he didn’t comply with agency’s standards. As a result of an injunction in that case, Bethell is required to pay for a year’s worth of random sampling. The department also is suing for $30,000 in fines in the case is scheduled for a late August hearing.
The potential for high fines in that case was one reason O’Hara said he didn’t seek maximum fines on Monday.
Bethell asked the judge to consider that he’s had difficulties trying to determine what the state regulations are for the past 10 years.
Bethell was first issued a violation from CDPHE in 2001 but two years later the agency sent Bethell a letter informing him that he was exempt from one section of the Solid Waste Act. The section normally regulates facilities such as Bethell’s business.
The CDPHE alleges that since 2001, Bethell has forged the truck analysis reports. In an injunction hearing earlier this month, both sides agreed that the judge would hear the civil case on stipulation that those documents were “not genuine.”
Bethell told the judge Monday that there has been years of “unanswered letters and years of ongoing struggles” dealing with the department.
“Obviously this is a very difficult time for myself and my family,” Bethell said after Monday’s hearing. “There are lot of circumstances and other situations that have been going on for over 10 years and those difficulties have boiled over and created a mountain out of a mole hill.”
Bethell’s lawyer, Sherman Romney, said Bethell will have to pay steep costs for the sampling required by the courts and “tens of thousands of dollars” if further penalties are levied against the Craig man.
“There definitely are two sides to every story,” Romney said. “We wanted to be sure that Phil’s side is in front of the court.”
Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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