One Lying Criminal Scumbag Down, So Many - Cheney Please - To Go
For those desperate for even a shard of hope in a tough tough week, this opening sentence: "Former Freedom Industries executive Gary Southern was arrested Monday in Florida and was released after making his initial court appearance." Yes: The sleazebag head of the company that last January dumped massive amounts of crude MCHM and other toxic chemicals into the Elk River, thus contaminating the water for 300,000 West Virginia residents, just got bagged on criminal fraud charges. It was for lying in a subsequent bankruptcy case, it's true, not for trashing the only planet we have and being an arrogant, oblivious, greedy dick in the process. But still: Accountability may yet win.
The spill of at least 10,000 gallons of the coal-cleaning crude methylcyclohexane methanol, or MCHM, and an unknown amount of propylene glycol phenyl ether, or PPH, gushed from a ruptured storage tank directly into the Elk River about a mile upstream from the intake for a nine-county area's drinking water supply in the state's most populous region. Freedom filed for bankruptcy eight days later, but the mess it left behind continued - and continues - to resonate. Officials banned the use of tap water for ten days but then subsequently, endlessly fudged about its status to worried residents. They variously described it as "appropriate" and "usable," said they did "not anticipate any adverse health effects" and helpfully noted that "everybody has a different definition of safe." Right after the deadly spill, Southern was called out for trying to dodge both media and responsibility, and most famously for stopping mid-press-conference to take a sip of bottled water like the kind 300,000 people had now been reduced to relying on thanks to his criminal negligence. He was also blasted for trying to get paid during bankruptcy proceedings.
This week's FBI complaint charged Southern with bankruptcy fraud, wire fraud and lying in a bankruptcy case. He stands accused of downplaying his role at Freedom and filing false documents in its sale to Chemstream Holdings - that name! - in an attempt to protect his almost $8 million net worth, including a lovely $1.2 million mansion in Florida that no doubt comes with perfectly pristine water. Prosecutors called the bankruptcy fraud charges "no laughing matter - it is serious business." After two days in jail, Southern was released on a $100,000 unsecured bond, with his travel restricted and passport surrendered. As he left the federal courthouse, he told reporters, "It's been a really long two days."
Southern's next court appearance is Dec. 18. Meanwhile, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin says the investigation is not over, and he expects further developments. They got Southern on other alleged crimes besides perpetrating an environmental disaster - shades of Al Capone dodging taxes. But in the wake of the indictment of coal boss Don Blankenship, and despite the notion of "Appalachian fatalism, the belief that West Virginians are ground down by a lack of justice,” residents are hopeful the criminally powerful may yet get their own. “It’s a great day when people are held accountable," said one. "There are people who are working to see that justice prevails."