Charges follow ´60 Minutes´ e-waste case
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By Jeremy Carroll | WRN reporter

Oct. 6 — The indictment of two executives of an electronic waste recycler accused of duping customers and sending e-waste to developing nations is a watershed moment for the battle for responsible e-waste recycling, an activist said.

Executive Recycling, based in Englewood, Colo. with facilities in Utah and Nebraska, sent more than 100,000 highly hazardous cathode ray tubes overseas in more than 300 shipments between February 2005 and January 2009, a 16-count indictment alleges.

CEO of the company, Brandon Richter, 36, of Highlands Ranch, Colo., and its former vice president of operations, Tor Olson, 36, of Parker, Colo., each face a myriad of charges, including wire fraud, mail fraud, failure to file notification on shipments of hazardous waste, and destruction, alteration or falsification of records.

Both executives face up to 20 years in prison if convicted on the most serious charges.

They are the first criminal charges to be levied against an e-waste recycler, said Jim Puckett, executive director of the Basel Action Network, a nonprofit organization which certifies e-waste companies.

“We´ve had a lot of so-called recyclers that have been slapped on the wrist in the past [with fines],” Puckett said. “None have stopped doing business as usual. This is really different. It sends such a strong message.”

He said the possibility of serious jail time sends a signal to other companies and CEOs that there are serious consequences to sending e-waste to developing countries and lying to customers about what is happening to the materials.

“This cannot be ignored,” Puckett said. “It´s a real victory for environmental justice. Its message is loud and clear.”

The grand jury concluded an indictment was warranted after federal officials completed a 30-month investigation.

“The investigation confirmed that Executive Recycling repeatedly exported used cathode ray tubes to China,” said David Marwell, special agent in charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement´s Homeland Security Investigation, in a statement. “Executive Recycling also made false promises to its customers who believed that [the company] was properly disposing of their electronic waste.”

The indictment says the company developed a scheme to falsely represent that it would dispose of all e-waste in an environmentally friendly or green manner. The company also said it would recycle the items in the U.S., not overseas.

Executive Recycling was the subject of a “60 Minutes” report in 2008 which tracked containers from its facility to Hong Kong. Richter publically denied sending items overseas, instead blaming the shipments on a second company which Executive Recycling sold the CRTs to, which then shipped the items overseas.

Pamela Mackey, attorney for Richter, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Olson´s attorney, Bill Leone, who said he wanted to litigate the case in the courtroom and not in the media, declined to discuss the case in detail.

“We´re disappointed in the government for bringing this case forward and we´re looking forward to our day in court,” he said.

The indictment alleges that both Richter and Olson engaged in exporting e-waste to foreign countries, including China. The two regularly negotiated the sale of e-waste to brokers who represented foreign buyers. The foreign buyers often paid Richter and Olson directly, the indictment alleges.

Shipping cargo was regularly loaded directly at the company´s Englewood, Colo., facility.

Federal and state law prohibits the export of hazardous waste to another country without first filing a notice with the U.S. EPA and obtaining the consent of the receiving country. That did not occur, the indictment says.

“The proper disposal of our electronic waste is not only critical today, but will also become more important in the future,” said U.S. Attorney John Walsh, in a statement.á”U.S. law requires proper disposal of this type of waste not only for the protection of Americans, but also so that we in the United States live up to our responsibility to be good international environmental stewards.”

Executive Recyclers duped El Paso, Broomfield and Boulder, Colo., Jefferson County Public Schools, the Children´s Hospital, Centura Health Hospital, Denver Newspaper Agency and Cherry Creek School District, the indictment alleges.

The company sold the e-waste it received from those entities and others to brokers, generating more than $ 1.8 million in sales.

Puckett said pending legislation in Congress to completely ban the shipment of e-waste to developing countries must be passed so it would be easier for police to charge exporters of e-waste.

“The laws on e-waste, the CRT rule, it´s really weak,” Puckett said. “It´s really easy to circumvent. In spite of that, they misled so many people, there´s fraud there.”

Contact Waste & Recycling News reporter Jeremy Carroll at jcarroll@crain.com or 313-446-6780.


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