R-12 smuggled into U.S. in refrigeration systems

August 15, 2000
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WASHINGTON — On July 5th, federal agents in San Antonio, Texas arrested Richard Schmolke on charges that he smuggled more than 75,000 lb of R-12 refrigerant into the U.S., in violation of the Clean Air Act and federal customs laws.

According to the complaint, Schmolke and his associate, Edwin Reilly, allegedly shipped six large industrial refrigeration units to Venezuela for refurbishing and recharging with R-12 (The News, March 1, 1999).

While in Venezuela, Schmolke and Reilly allegedly rebuilt the refrigeration units to hold more than 2,500 lb of CFC-12. CFC-12 production is legal in Venezuela for another decade.

Once the units arrived in the United States, Schmolke and Reilly were said to have removed the refrigerant and put it into smaller containers for resale.

Reilly pleaded guilty to smuggling the refrigerant earlier this year and is awaiting sentencing. Schmolke is expected to be arraigned soon on the charges.

Enforcement working

This case is the result of a national enforcement initiative launched in 1995 by the Justice Department, U.S. Customs Service, EPA, FBI, and IRS. According to EPA, since this initiative began, 88 defendants have been convicted and sentenced to a total of 48 years incarceration and $68 million in fines and restitution to the federal government.

A report issued by a consulting firm for the EPA concluded that illegal imports of CFC-12 have been significantly curtailed through aggressive law enforcement.

According to the report, between 15 million and 30 million lb of CFC-12 were illegally imported into the U.S. in 1994 and 1995. That volume was said to have dropped to an estimated 5 million to 10 million lb in 1996 and 1997.

According to the EPA, recent enforcement actions and convictions included the following.

  • Alex Roitman was arrested in New York June 7 for allegedly attempting to smuggle 72,000 lb of CFCs from Russia. A shipment of 36,000 lb was successfully smuggled into the U.S.

  • On June 22, Larry LeBlanc was sentenced to 15 months imprisonment and a $7,000 fine following his guilty plea to charges of illegally importing R-12 into the U.S. from Canada.

  • And in April and May, Cowas Patel and Moussa Toubbeh were sentenced for smuggling CFC-12 from Mexico into the U.S. They were sentenced to fines, community confinement, community service, and probation.

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