The owner of a Hawthorne electroplating firm began a 60-day jail term Thursday after pleading guilty to a felony charge of illegally disposing of cyanide waste and two misdemeanor counts of storing toxic waste improperly.
Arthur Filler, owner of Epic Plating Inc., also was fined $45,000.
The case is the first in California in which an environmental felony charge against an electroplater resulted in conviction and the first in which an electroplater has been jailed, according to William Carter, deputy district attorney with the Environmental Crimes Division of the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.
Filler, who earlier had sought to avoid jail in negotiations with the prosecutor, could not be reached for comment, nor could his lawyer. He was sentenced Wednesday.
The $45,000 fine imposed by Commissioner George Taylor consists of $31,000 for criminal penalties and $14,000 in investigative costs and restitution to local health authorities, the prosecutor said. The fine is to be paid over three years; Filler will serve his sentence on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the Palos Verdes Estates jail.
The case is one of about a dozen brought by the district attorney's Toxic Waste Strike Force against electroplating companies. About 500 electroplating firms in Los Angeles County use toxic solutions containing acids, cyanide and heavy metals in a process that deposits a thin metal coating on a metallic surface. The process is used to harden parts, place a protective coating on areas exposed to corrosion or recondition worn parts.
Many of the firms are small, a factor that Carter said can lead to violations. The deputy district attorney said that Filler, who has about half a dozen employees, apparently felt hard-pressed economically and chose to avoid the expense of proper disposal.
Barrel Reported Leaking
On Oct. 21, after keeping Epic Plating under surveillance for several months, investigators found about two dozen drums containing cyanide, hexavalent chromium, perchloroethylene and cadmium solutions just inside a chain-link fence surrounding Epic Plating's property in the 4900 block of West Rosecrans Avenue.
One of the drums, a 55-gallon barrel containing cyanide solution, was leaking onto the ground, Carter said. On the other side of the fence was a grassy backyard where children played.
In an interview after the raid, Filler said he cleaned up the area and disposed of the waste legally. No one was injured.
Carter said the district attorney's office insisted on jail time and was able to convince Filler during plea bargaining that the case against him was strong.
"He had nowhere to go," Carter said.
". . . He was obviously storing those materials and there was no way around (the fact) that they were leaking and discharging into the ground. . . .
"We have to instill in these businessmen that we are serious. Mr. Filler was looking at some possible long-term jail time (two years) due to some previous cases."
Carter said that the previous cases involved administrative sanctions imposed by the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts for illegally discharging heavy concentrations of chromium in December, 1984. Filler acknowledged violating regulations but was not fined.