No Jail Time in Dumping Case

Washington PA Observer Reporter
16 June 2012
By Tara Kinsell, Staff writer

WAYNESBURG - An environmental case that drew national attention ended with the defendant avoiding jail time.

After an eight-hour sentencing hearing, Greene County Judge Farley Toothman sentenced Robert Allan Shipman, 50, of New Freeport, former owner of Allan's Wastewater Service Inc., to seven years' probation.

Shipman entered an open plea in February to one count each of theft by deception, receiving stolen property, tampering with public records or information, criminal conspiracy to commit theft by deception; five counts of unlawful conduct; and three counts of polluting waterways.

He pleaded guilty to these same charges on behalf of his former company, Allan's Wastewater Service Inc., of which he was the company president.

In addition to probation, Shipman was ordered to pay $257,316 in restitution; $100,000 in fines; $25,000 to the attorney general's office; and was ordered to serve 1,750 hours of community service with nonprofit water service-related organizations.

The charges stemmed from a two-year investigation by the state attorney general's office that he illegally dumped millions of gallons of wastewater from natural gas drilling, sewage sludge and restaurant grease into streams and mine shafts in a six-county area.

In imposing the sentence, Toothman said he looked at the charges and facts surrounding the case and the sentencing laws and guidelines. He said he also considered Shipman's family obligations, his business and employment history, the presentence report, psychologist's evaluation and his character and witness statements.

"We find the following facts to be aggravated and weigh in favor of incarceration. There crimes are significant. Pollution is a serious crime," he said. "Pollution crimes should be prosecuted. I applaud the attorney general's office and the state (Department of Environmental Protection) for having prosecuted somebody in this arena."

He said Shipman caused "serious injuries to public waterways."

"We all live downstream to someone, the Monongahela River or the Ohio River, where millions of people rely on for their source water for safe drinking purposes," Toothman said, noting potential damages from Shipman's actions are yet to be seen.

He suggested the longstanding culture of economic and industrial history, mining and the more recent Marcellus Shale drilling were mitigating factors in his decision. He added his doubt the pollution "magically stopped" when Shipman's business ceased to operate.

"Let this case be a fair warning to those in the business or not that higher standards are around the corner and will be enforced and more severe," he said.

Toothman then went on to give Shipman credit for his cooperation with the attorney general's office, followed by explaining his decision to give Shipman probation based on the tragic suicide death of his stepdaughter.

"I am also compelled to note in a moment of silent memory, the devastation of the suicide of your stepdaughter," Toothman said. "What more of a consequence can this court impose? It is not OK to break the law, and it is OK to go to jail if you break the law."

However, Toothman added he wanted to "express the grace of the gavel and the very real use of it," noting Shipman was no longer, nor would he be, in a position to commit similar crimes.

Character witnesses testifying on Shipman's behalf spoke of college tuition and burials for the children of friends for which he paid, stadium lights at West Greene High School put up with his assistance, a fire truck purchased by him and a walking path in front of the bleachers at West Greene stadium Shipman purchased the gravel to install.

Deputy Attorney General Amy Carnicella said this Shipman and the one being sentenced were like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

"The money, even though considerate on you part, that you used to help these people and organizations, some of it you did with ill-gotten gains from documents you forged and falsely billed?" Carnicella asked Shipman, who said, "yes."

Shipman said Friday, "I'm sorry for what happened. I really am. I wish it never did happen. I am sorry for the pollution and stuff my company caused. I'm sorry that I committed the crimes."

Carnicella told Shipman he should have considered the feelings, emotions and hardships his actions would place on his family before he committed them. She suggested he was not sorry for the crimes committed but for getting caught.

"I considered my family the whole time through everything," he responded.

In her closing arguments, Carnicella told Toothman character witnesses speaking on someone's behalf was not a new concept and it would be a "very slippery slope" the judge would go down if he based his sentence on that, combined with Shipman's familial circumstances, instead of the "charges at hand."

She said every defendant has circumstances in their life that make going to jail a hardship and inconvenient.

"If we used that as a basis, there would be no need for jails, no need for prisons," she said. "Everyone would come in here and say some family member has something going on with them and be free.

"I'm sure he's a good father, but there are millions of people out there who are good parents," she said.

She reminded the court of the "gallons upon gallons" of gas well production water dumped by his company.

"It is not like you dump this and in five minutes it just goes away," she said. "Six counties were affected by one defendant's criminal actions. This is not a mistake. It was a scheme, a planned, organized scheme for pure greed."