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Ex-EPA Official Is Convicted of Fraud

September 28, 2004|David Rosenzweig | Times Staff Writer

A federal jury Monday convicted a former top official of the Environmental Protection Agency of scheming to defraud a client who hired her consulting firm to clean up a toxic work site in Los Angeles.

Rita Lavelle, 57, of Temecula, who served as head of the EPA's Superfund program during the Reagan administration, faces 15 to 24 months in prison when she is sentenced in January on one count of fraud and two counts of making false statements to the FBI.

Lavelle, who remains free on bond, said after the verdict that she was the victim of a government frame-up. "I didn't do anything illegal or immoral," she said.

The conviction involved her activities as a partner in an environmental consulting firm, NuTech Enterprises Inc. of Oceanside. Also accused in the case was Robert V. Cole, 67, a partner in DeNova Environmental Inc., a hazardous waste facility in Rialto.

According to prosecutors, Cole and Lavelle tried to swindle Joseph Bertelli, the 86-year-old owner of the Lemco Corp. in South Los Angeles, which had been in the business of buying and reselling salvaged goods.

In 2000, the EPA ordered Bertelli to remove all hazardous waste from his facility. He hired Lavelle to oversee the job. Prosecutors said Lavelle and Cole hatched a scheme to defraud Bertelli of $52,000 by forging his name on various documents without performing any of the work. Cole pleaded guilty earlier this month to wire fraud and is awaiting sentencing.

In 1983, Lavelle was convicted of lying to a House subcommittee investigating conflicts of interest by officials in the EPA's toxic cleanup program. She was forced to resign and spent five months behind bars.

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