A grand jury today indicted two men allegedly involved in the dumping of sewage into a Goochland County creek, one of two environmental incidents that prompted Gov. James S. Gilmore III to oust his top highway official in August.
Michael Wayne Butler, a right-of-way agent with the Virginia Department of Transportation, and Jimmy David Dalton, a supervisor with the contractor S.B. Cox Inc., were indicted for allegedly failing to implement a sewage lagoon closure plan in June. Two other felony indictments against Dalton allege that he knowingly discharged sewage into state waters and failed to notify authorities about it.
Murray J. Janus, an attorney for Dalton, said, "We plan on appearing in court and entering a plea of not guilty." He declined to elaborate. Butler's attorney did not return phone calls seeking comment. An official at S.B. Cox declined to comment on the incident and today's indictments.
The felony indictments are the first criminal charges to come out of an investigation by state and federal officials into alleged misdeeds by the Virginia Department of Transportation. Gilmore (R) forced VDOT Commissioner David R. Gehr to resign over what he called "blatant disregard of our environmental laws."
In a statement today, Attorney General Mark L. Earley (R) said: "Today's indictments are proof of our resolve to support and enforce laws designed to protect the Commonwealth's precious natural resources. We will continue to investigate, and prosecute where appropriate, violations arising out of VDOT's operations around the state."
The June incident happened in Goochland County, a western suburb of Richmond, when VDOT hired S.B. Cox to close a lagoon of sewage as part of a highway project. Instead, the contractor sent more than 100,000 gallons of sewage into a nearby creek that feeds the James River, Richmond's water supply, according to Gilmore.
Also under investigation is an environmental incident in Hampton in which VDOT directed a contractor to destroy wetlands without necessary permits. Correcting that incident added $1 million to the cost of a highway project, Gilmore said.
Gilmore said in a statement today that the "indictments reflect the need to continue a thorough investigation, and, where appropriate, prosecute those who would violate Virginia's environmental laws. As this investigation continues, swift and immediate action will be taken where necessary."
When the governor announced the ouster of Gehr, many lawmakers from both parties defended Gehr as an effective manager and suggested Gilmore's action was intended to distract attention from a stalled road-building program.
Craig Bieber, executive director of the Virginia Democratic Party, today questioned Earley's motives in seeking an indictment shortly before the Nov. 2 legislative elections, in which control of the General Assembly is at stake.
"The timing to me seems highly suspicious, being that it's three weeks before the election," Bieber said.
Butler and Dalton are scheduled to be arraigned Nov. 12. If convicted, Butler could face up to 12 years in prison and fines totaling $150,000. Dalton, if convicted, could face up to 16 years in prison and fines totaling $200,000.