On August 20, 2014, the Department of Toxic Substances Control's (DTSC) Office of Criminal Investigations announced that two Merced County plating shop operators pleaded no contest to criminal charges related to the release and abandonment of hazardous waste.
The pleas were entered back in June:
- June 17, 2014 - Bonnie Rita Cardenas pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor violation for failure to immediately report the release of muriatic acid (also known as hydrochloric acid). As part of the plea, Cardenas’s will serve 50 hours of community service, three years of informal probation, and faces restitution, fines, and fees.
- June 29, 2014 - Ramon Alonzo Montes pleaded no contest to a felony violation for unlawfully dumping hazardous waste. The terms of Montes’s plea include 120 days in jail, five years informal probation, and reserved restitution, fines, and fees.
According to a DTSC press release, Montes operated a plating facility in Hilmar, stopped paying rent for the facility, and left hazardous materials there. Montes subsequently sold his remaining plating chemicals to Cardenas. In moving those chemicals from Montes’s Hilmar facility to a facility located in Merced, a 55-gallon drum of muriatic acid spilled onto the ground and ultimately entered a storm drain. Cardenas failed to report the release.
DTSC's Office of Criminal Investigations worked with the California Highway Patrol and Merced County Environmental Health Department in the investigation. Investigators sent their case to the Merced County District Attorney, which then filed a criminal complaint against Cardenas and Montes for violations of the California Penal Code and the California Hazardous Waste Control Law.
"Investigators in DTSC's Office of Criminal Investigations work to protect our environmental health on a daily basis," said Alan Barcelona, president of the California Statewide Law Enforcement Association (CSLEA) which represents DTSC investigators. "I wish there were more of them to investigate those who give no thought to our environment and the health of Californians. Leaving hazardous waste or spilling it puts people and property in harm's way. "