Lupo changes plea in water-pollution case

CLEVELAND, Ohio (WKBN) — The man accused of ordering one of his workers to dump brine and other waste down a storm sewer last year now will face sentencing after pleading guilty Monday morning in U.S. District Court.

Ben Lupo, the former owner of D & L Energy and Hardrock Excavating in Youngstown, was indicted in February of 2013. He was accused of orchestrating the dumping of tens of thousands of gallons of brine and other liquid waste that eventually made its way into the Mahoning River.

The dumping occurred over a three-month period between November 2012 and January 2013.

According to the plea notice, there were 58 storage tanks located at Hardrock Excavating as of Jan. 31, 2013, and each tank had a 20,000-gallon capacity. Lupo ordered an employee, Michael Guesman, to dump some of the liquid waste into a nearby storm drain using a hose, the court document states.

According to the plea notice, analysis of the sample showed the presence of several hazardous pollutants, including benzene, which also is contained in cigarette smoke,  and toluene, which also is contained in paint thinner and nail polish.

Lupo pleaded guilty to improper dumping, which is a violation of the U.S. Clean Water Act. He changed his original plea of not guilty, but the change in plea was not the result of a plea bargain or agreement, according to special prosecutors.

“The purpose of the plea notice was to spell out the statutory maximums associated with the case and then his other constitutional rights. There’s no agreement as to what the sentence will be as part of the plea notice,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Brad Beeson.

Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Press Release

Lupo will be sentenced in June and faces three years in prison and a fine of $50,000 for every day of the violation. That number was not specified in court, and is something that will likely be debated by both parties.

Lupo also has agreed to pay the costs of the massive cleanup, which officials said cost more than $3 million.

Lupo’s employee, Michael Guesman, pleaded guilty to a similar charge last week. He was given three years of probation because he cooperated with the investigation and provided investigators with key evidence.

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