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For Immediate Release:  
For Further Information Contact:
March 8, 2005

Office of The Attorney General
- Peter C. Harvey, Attorney General
Division of Criminal Justice
Environmental Crimes Bureau
- Vaughn L. McKoy, Director

 

John R. Hagerty
609-984-1936

 

Attorney General’s Office and Division of Criminal Justice Continue to Investigate and Prosecute Urban Environmental Crime

Urban Environmental Initiative Targets Illegal Dumping in Urban, Suburban and Rural Communities

Criminal Indictment Charges Passaic County Businessman and Corporate Vice-President with Abandoning Asbestos on Urban Street...
Additional Prosecutions Charge Director of UMDNJ’s Power Plant with Discharging Contaminated Waste Water into Newark Public Sewer System...
...Essex County Business Owner Pleads Guilty to Abandoning Trailers Filled with Waste Oil and Construction Debris in Elizabeth...
Worker Jailed for Stealing Trailers and Abandoning Debris in Essex County...

TRENTON — New Jersey Attorney General Peter C. Harvey announced that the Attorney General’s Urban Environmental Initiative continues to successfully investigate and prosecute urban environmental crimes with the indictment of a Passaic County businessman on charges of abandoning hazardous asbestos construction debris on the streets of Paterson.

The Attorney General noted that recent prosecutions by the Urban Environmental Initiative include the criminal indictment of the operator/supervisor of the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey’s (UMDNJ) Newark power plant for illegally discharging untreated acidic wastewater directly into the Newark sewer system; a guilty plea from an Essex County businessman on charges of abandoning waste oil and debris on an Elizabeth street; and the sentencing of a Newark truck driver to three years in state prison for stealing tractor trailers, filling them with construction debris, and then leaving the vehicles at various locations in Essex County. -more-

“The Urban Environmental Initiative is committed to protecting urban communities from the illegal, unscrupulous, and often dangerous practice of dumping debris and hazardous materials in or near residential communities and neighborhoods,” Attorney General Harvey said. “As our cities and urban areas undergo renovation and rebuilding, there will be those who try to cut corners and improperly dispose of demolition debris, solid waste, and hazardous and toxic chemicals in back lots and alleyways. The Attorney General’s Office is determined that New Jersey’s communities will not be dumping grounds and that the residents living in urban settings are not the forgotten New Jerseyans.”

Vaughn L. McKoy, Director, Division of Criminal Justice, said a State Grand Jury indictment charged Branko Rovcanin, 40, Hollowbrook Court, Wayne, Passaic County, and his corporation, Betal Environmental, Inc. (d/b/a Betal Environmental and/or Betal Enterprises), located at 250 Vreeland Ave., Paterson, Passaic County, with the abandonment of toxic pollutants, unlawful collection of solid waste, criminal mischief, the unlicenced removal of asbestos, uttering a forged document, and tampering with public records. If convicted on all counts, Rovcanin faces more than 20 years incarceration and fines of up to $120,000. The corporation is liable for substantial criminal penalties. Rovcanin was arrested at his Paterson office on March 7 by State Investigators from the Division of Criminal Justice - Environmental Crimes Bureau and officers from the Passaic County Sheriff’s Office. Rovcanin will appear in Passaic County Superior Court for arraignment and bail.

The indictment charged that Rovcanin, as the owner and Vice-President of Betal Environmental, obtained at least four separate contracts to remove asbestos and other construction debris from various construction sites in four separate counties even though the company was not licensed to perform such work. The indictment alleges that Rovcanin collected the debris, placed 33 bags of asbestos material in a trailer, and then abandoned the container on East 38th Street in Paterson. The abandoned trailer, recovered by Paterson Police on July 23, 2004, also contained construction debris, soil, wood, metal, carpet, and pieces of fiberglass boat hulls. The indictment alleges that Rovcanin forged documents and submitted false letters in order to obtain contracts to remove asbestos from construction sites and falsified manifests required to transport asbestos and construction debris to an Ohio landfill.

The Rovcanin/Betal Environmental investigation was coordinated by State Investigator Steven Ogulin and Supervising Deputy Attorney General Edward Bonanno of the Division of Criminal Justice - Environmental Crimes Bureau. The New Jersey Department of Labor & Workforce Development initiated and assisted in the investigation. Representatives of the Passaic County Sheriff’s Office assisted in the arrest of Rovcanin. The State Grand Jury indictment was handed-up to Mercer County Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg on March 4.

Director McKoy noted that in recent weeks, the Environmental Crimes Bureau has obtained a separate criminal indictment, guilty plea, and sentencing of a convicted defendant charged with various environmental crimes, including:

  • State Grand Jury indictment charging Gerald Portee, 51, Lilac Lane, Franklin, with violating the Water Pollution Control Act by unlawfully discharging untreated wastewater directly into the Newark sewer system. The indictment charges Portee with two counts of third degree water pollution, tampering with public records, and tampering with a witness. The indictment charges that on two separate dates in August, 2003, Portee, the Director of the Newark power plant for the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ), directed subordinates to discharge nearly 10,000 gallons of untreated, highly acidic wastewater from the power plant into the municipal sewer system. The UMDNJ power plant is located at 295 Norfolk Ave. in Newark. The indictment also charges that Portee attempted to cover-up the alleged illegal activity by instructing plant workers to ignore operating procedures and to enter false information into required log books to make it appear that the waste water had been drained into a sump pit, rather than discharged into the sewer system. If convicted on all counts, Portee faces up to 20 years in state prison and a fine of up to $180,000. Portee has been suspended from his position at UMDNJ and will be ordered to appear in Essex County Superior Court for arraignment and bail. The indictment was handed-up to Mercer County Superior Court Judge Linda R. Feinberg on Feb. 7;
  • On Feb. 22, the owner of a Roselle, Union County, trucking company pleaded guilty to using stolen trailers to abandon drums of toxic waste on the streets of Elizabeth. In pleading guilty before Union County Superior Court Judge Scott J. Moynihan to a charge of abandonment of toxic pollutants, Joseph Armstrong, 45, Thompson Street, Roselle, Union County, the owner/President of Dock Bumpers, Inc., 1120 Walnut Street, Roselle, admitted that he stole a tractor trailer, loaded the trailer with twelve 55-gallon drums of waste oil and other substances, including toxic pollutants such as lead, zinc and copper, and abandoned the trailer on Julia Street in Elizabeth. Armstrong is scheduled to be sentenced on May 20;
  • On Feb. 18, a driver/employee of a Newark-based demolition company was sentenced by Essex County Superior Court Judge Michael A. Petrolle to three years in state prison for stealing tractor-trailers, filling them with construction debris, and then abandoning the trailers at various sites in Essex County. On Nov. 8, 2004, Henry E. Pettaway, 42, Summer Avenue, Newark, Essex County, pleaded guilty to multiple counts of receiving stolen property and criminal mischief. The indictment alleged that Pettaway, purportedly employed by the owner/operator of a Newark-based demolition business, stole at least five tractor trailers which were then filled with construction debris and abandoned at various locations in Essex County. The stolen trailers, filled with demolition debris, were recovered at Magazine and Paris Streets, Newark; Nye Avenue and 21st Street, Irvington; and 263 16th Ave., Newark.

The Urban Environmental Initiative represents a partnership between the Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Compliance and Enforcement Bureau and the Division of Criminal Justice - Environmental Crimes Bureau. The initiative is geared to response, investigation and prosecution of environmental crimes in urban, suburban and rural communities and industrial areas and targets criminal activity such as the illegal dumping of construction debris and other solid waste, illegal discharges of pollutants into waterways and the air, and other activities which negatively impact the quality of life for residents in urban neighborhoods and communities.

Attorney General Harvey said that in 2004, the Division of Criminal Justice - Environmental Crimes Bureau obtained 17 criminal indictments, guilty pleas and/or Accusations charging 24 individuals or corporations with illegal acts ranging from the intentional discharge of hazardous and potentially toxic wastewater into public waterways, to the illegal dumping of thousands of tires in environmentally sensitive areas, to discharging contaminated wastes near residential communities, to abandoning trailers full of solid waste and construction debris in urban neighborhoods. The Environmental Crimes Bureau has also collected more than $600,000 in fines and restitution.

The investigations and prosecutions were coordinated by Supervising Deputy Attorney General Edward Bonanno and Deputy Attorney’s General Bruce Kmosko, Robert Donovan, Betty Rodriquez, Phillip Leahy, and John Higgins. Acting Supervising State Investigator Jeffrey Gross and State Investigators, Stephen Politowski, Dawn Ryan, Steven Ogulin, Jeffrey Hill, and Stephen Coraggio conducted the investigations. All are assigned to the Division of Criminal Justice - Environmental Crimes Bureau.

Attorney General Harvey said that the key to a successful enforcement initiative against illegal dumpers must include the “eyes and ears” of neighborhood residents and community watch groups reporting suspicious activities. The DEP maintains a 24-Hour Environmental Hot Line -- 609- 292-7172 -- to receive reports of environmental crimes. Information regarding environmental enforcement activities can be obtained by logging on to the Division of Criminal Justice web page at www.njdcj.org or the Department of Environmental Protection web page at www.nj.gov/dep.


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