There have been jokes in the HVAC industry about smuggling R-22 ever since the refrigerant phasedown was announced a few years ago. But a Fort Worth, Texas, man isn’t laughing after getting sentenced for doing just that. Faiz Abdallahi was ordered to pay a $250,000 fine and will serve three years’ probation.
Abdallahi pleaded guilty in October 2021 to the improper importation of a class II substance. This is a felony under the Federal Clean Air Act. He was sentenced March 1 in U.S. Federal Court.
According to plea paper, Abdallahi admitted he smuggled R-22 into the U.S. without an authorized permit in 2017. Following the implementation of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer in January 2010, the import of R-22 was limited, although still legal with a permit in 2017. As of 2020, the importation of R-22 was completely banned. Only recovered, recycled, or reclaimed supplies of R-22 are currently available, though consumers are not required to stop using R-22 air conditioners.
Abdallahi admits he arranged for Chinese R-22 to be delivered to the port of Long Beach, California. He then transported it via rail to the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Abdallahi disguised the canisters as R32 to avoid seizure by the US Customs and Border Protection.
Sivero Zamora, Abdallahi’s co-conspirator, then re-packaged and sold the R-22 to HVAC contractors. Zamora pleaded guilty in January to being an accessory after the fact. He was sentenced to six months’ probation.
AGENCIES CRACKDOWN ON SMUGGLING
The investigation was conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Criminal Investigation Division and Homeland Security Investigations. Todd “Tony” Adams, assistant special agent in charge of the EPA’s Southwest Area criminal enforcement program said the arrest was part of an ongoing effort to crackdown on the illegal importation of R-22.
“The defendant’s intentional disregard for the environment included the illegal sale of hydrochlorflourocarbon-22 (R-22), a restricted substance which not only damages the ozone layer that protects people from the harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation, but also contributes to climate change,” Adams said. “EPA and our federal partners continue to hold accountable companies and individuals that place public safety and the environment at risk.”
Smuggling illegal refrigerants is an international problem. Last summer, Europe’s Environmental Investigation Agency released a report titled “Europe’s Most Chilling Crime – The illegal trade in HFC refrigerant gases.” The report shows that 2020, 281 tons of HFCs were seized in 59 separate seizures in six European Union member states. The number of seizures has been declining, but the total tonnage has been increasing.