In what officials said were the first results of a major investigation into hazardous waste violations by the jewelry industry, two Glendale men have pleaded no contest to charges involving the dumping of cyanide and acids from a Glassell Park precious-metals refinery into the sewer system.
Deputy Los Angeles Dist. Atty. Brad Stone said that the investigation was continuing and that the case is intended to warn other jewelers and refiners. "We're rather hoping this will be a smack in the side of the head to them all to stop dumping," he said. "We're not dying to put a lot of people in jail."
The owner of the Rafidain Refinery, Rafi Ohanes, 31, pleaded no contest last week to one count of illegal transportation of hazardous waste from a jewelry manufacturing shop he also owns in the neighborhood. The plant's manager, Krikor Mahrouk, 33, pleaded no contest to one count of illegal disposal of hazardous waste.
The two men are scheduled to appear before Superior Court Judge David Horowitz on July 22 for sentencing. Each man faces a maximum of three years in prison and fines of up to $50,000. Stone said his office would recommend a large fine for Ohanes and a 60-day County Jail sentence for Mahrouk.
Stone said that, working on a tip from the jewelry district in downtown Los Angeles, the Los Angeles County Toxic Wast Strike Force on Feb. 8 measured high levels of cyanide flowing through the sewer system from the refinery at 3060 Roswell St., just east of San Fernando Road. Additional readings of acids were observed later that week, suggesting an effort to keep the chemicals from mixing and forming noxious gases, Stone said. Cyanide and acids are used in the refining of gold and silver particles.
Stone said that, during the week of surveillance of the sewer lines, police, fire and health officials were standing by in case noxious gases were formed and an evacuation of the area became necessary.
The refinery was allowed to reopen last week after the installation of $40,000 worth of improvements to its waste filtration system, Stone said. The plant serves many businesses in the downtown Jewelry Mart, where, Stone said, "the discharge problem is horrendous."
Participating in the Toxic Waste Strike Force are the Los Angeles Police Department, the district attorney, the city Public Works Department, the county Health Department and the state Department of Health Services.
The attorney for the defendants, Howard Schoppen, could not be reached for comment.