SAN DIEGO–An Escondido chemist whose company was previously convicted of environmental crimes in federal court in 2012, pleaded guilty to a new charge, this time admitting that he submitted false documents to the Environmental Protection Agency to obscure his involvement in the prior federal case and avoid becoming ineligible for federal contracts.
Michael Conrad, 64, pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Mitchell Dembin to one count of making false statements
In pleading guilty, Conrad acknowledged that he made eight written submissions (with approximately 57 separate documents as exhibits) to the EPA Suspension and Debarment Office between April 14, 2013, and April 10, 2015, designed to make it appear that he was not involved in the actions that gave rise to the previous criminal case, in order for Conrad to avoid debarment, or ineligibility for federal contracts and grants. Conrad admitted that the submissions contained statements known by him to be false, and that many of the attached exhibits were documents falsified by him to support his false statements.
Conrad admitted that in the prior case, in 2012, he signed a plea agreement on behalf of Asgard Associates, LLC, in which Asgard agreed to plead guilty to illegally storing hazardous wastes at a facility on Roselle Street in San Diego. The corporate resolution filed with the court, authorizing the plea, was signed on behalf of the Asgard Board of Directors by “George H. Conrad.”Asgard was sentenced to a term of three years of probation and was ordered to pay $175,411.68 in restitution for the costs incurred during the removal of the chemicals from the Roselle Street facility. Conrad acknowledged that he signed a document, personally agreeing to pay the restitution amount in the event of default by Asgard.As a result of the conviction of Asgard, the EPA issued a suspension notice to Conrad on February 14, 2013, and initiated debarment proceedings.
In pleading guilty, Conrad admitted that many of the documents he submitted to the EPA in opposition to the debarment were false. Conrad admitted that he provided an exhibit that was purportedly a letter Conrad wrote in 2006, wherein he advised the incoming subtenants of the Roselle facility that a hazardous waste disposal firm had completed the removal of all but 29 containers of chemicals at the Roselle Street facility, knowing at the time that he had not hired a hazardous waste disposal firm to remove chemicals from Roselle Street in 2006. Conrad further acknowledged submitting exhibits that were purportedly correspondence between Conrad and the Asgard Board of Directors in 2008, that were actually written by him in 2013 in order to support his argument that his participation in Asgard was severely limited.
Conrad acknowledged that he falsely advised the EPA that no members of the Asgard Board of Directors were known to him or communicated with him in 2011-2012, knowing at the time that the only individuals who owned and controlled Asgard were Conrad and his wife. Conrad admitted that he submitted e-mails that were purportedly communications occurring in 2012 between Conrad and “Laura Ertmann” and “Jean French” (representing the Asgard Board of Directors), describing his supposed limited participation in Asgard’s operation, knowing at the time that they were falsified because he wrote them in 2013, and he was aware that there was no Laura Ertmann or Jean French associated with Asgard. In fact, the e-mail headers bore dates that did not match the days of the week on the calendar. For example, one e-mail from Ertmann to Conrad was supposedly dated “Monday, June 1, 2012,” but June 1, 2012, was actually a Friday.
Conrad further admitted that he provided the EPA with documents that purportedly were letters written by Conrad in 2008 to representatives of the subtenant, mentioning Asgard and discussing the need for the subtenant to remove the chemicals, knowing at the time that they were falsified because he wrote them in 2013, and he had never mentioned Asgard to the subtenants, or wrote them requesting the removal of the chemicals in 2008. Some of these e-mails also bore date headers that did not match the calendar day.
Conrad admitted that he submitted to the EPA an exhibit that was purportedly an e-mail dated “Monday, January 21, 2015” (which was actually a Wednesday) from Laura Ertmann in which Ertmann advised that the Asgard Board of Directors member who signed the resolution authorizing the Asgard plea was actually George H. Conrad III, an individual who immigrated to this country approximately 15 years ago and lives in southern Pennsylvania, who was unrelated to defendant Conrad. Conrad further admitted that in his submissions to the EPA, he denied any familial relationship to the “George Conrad” who had signed the Asgard Board of Directors resolution authorizing the Asgard plea and asserted that his older brother George Conrad had died in 1995, knowing at the time the statement was made that it was false and that his brother George Conrad, who is alive and currently resides in California, had signed the resolution.
The false submissions caused the agency to spend nearly 400 hours considering and investigating facts known to the defendant to be false, and responding to submissions from the defendant that he knew to be false, resulting in $23,426 of lost EPA man hours.
“Submitting false statements to the government in an attempt to mislead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Suspension and Debarment Program is a serious offense that undermines the very foundation of the program that is designed to protect the government. The EPA’s Office of Inspector General remains committed in working with our law enforcement partners to deter and investigate these types of crimes,” said Joe Gonzales, Acting Special Agent in Charge, EPA OIG San Francisco Field Office.
“Our government functions properly only when individuals and corporate entities submit honest and truthful information,” said Jay Green, Special Agent in Charge of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in California. “At the heart of this case was a scene so toxic, so dangerous to human health and safety that emergency response teams had to be called in. To distance himself from the crime and its legal ramifications, the defendant later made false statements designed to mislead investigators. Today’s guilty plea demonstrates that violators who deliberately waste government resources, manpower, and taxpayers’ money, will be prosecuted.”
Conrad is scheduled to be sentenced before U.S. District Judge Janis Sammartino on September 11 in San Diego.