Strongsville, Ohio – A federal case is being made out of April’s massive fish kill along the Rocky River.
The U.S. Justice Department has filed charges against the owners of Strongsville-based Kennedy Mint Co. and its owners: Renato Montorsi, 79, and his wife, Teresina Montorsi, 74.
Renato and Kennedy Mint Inc. are both charged with four counts each: Violation of the Clean Water Act, conspiracy, and two counts of obstruction of justice.
Teresina is charged with three counts: Conspiracy and two counts of obstruction of justice.
Renato and Teresina Montorsi are married and live in Grafton, according to public records, the federal government asserts.
All of the charges are federal felonies, says U.S. Justice Department spokesman Mike Tobin.
Tobin says that violations by individuals and of the federal Clean Water Act are punishable by a fine of up to $50,000 per day of violation, or $250,000, whichever is greater, up to three years in federal prison; for a corporation the penalty can be a fine of up to $50,000 per day of violation, or $500,000, whichever is greater, and up to five years of probation.
The conspiracy charge carries a fine for individuals of up to $250,000 and federal prison time of up to five years; for corporations the charge can lead to a fine of up to $500,000 and probation of up to five years.
On a charge of obstruction of justice, the penalty for an individual can be a fine of up to $250,000 and federal prison time of up to 20 years; for corporations, the penalty can be a fine of up to $500,000, and probation of up to five years, Tobin says.
“Obviously these are the maximums allowed under the law and in most cases – in fact, almost all cases – defendants who are found guilty often get considerably less,” Tobin said.
Kennedy Mint specializes in collectible coins, but previously conducted metal plating and printing operations, the federal government says.
As for the East Branch of the Rocky River, this stream is part of a watershed that is heavily used by recreational steelhead anglers who are drawn to the stream for its trout fishing opportunities.
The Rocky River is one of only five streams that receives stocking of steelhead trout by the DNR Division of Wildlife.
It is the goal for the wildlife division to annually stock 90,000 steelhead trout into the Rocky River with the fish coming from the agency’s Castalia Cold-water Trout Hatchery in Erie County.
In an exhaustive field study of anglers during the 2009-2010 fishing season, the wildlife division extrapolated that more than 18,000 steelhead were caught from the Rocky River by anglers from Ohio, six other states, and one Canadian province.
The charges stem from a massive fish kill on the Rocky River that occurred on or about April 18. Nearly 31,000 fish were poisoned, the deaths happening after Renato allegedly “used a hammer and sharp metal tool to punch a hole near the bottom of a drum that included a poison label featuring a skull and cross bones,” the federal government alleges
“After punching the hole, liquid cyanide in the drum was discharged into the storm drain and eventually the East Branch of the Rocky River,” according to the federal indictment.
It is alleged that the couple and their company stalled investigators’ efforts to enter the premises and inspect the drums.
Also, the federal government alleges that the Montorsis eventually moved the tampered drum to their Grafton home.
“On April 27, both Renato and Teresina Montorsi denied knowledge of the location of the punctured drum,” according to the indictment.
Also, alleges in the indictment, “On May 16, Renato Montorsi was again asked about the location of the punctured drum and again denied knowledge of its location.”
Consequently and subsequently, the federal government charged both the couple and their company for alleged illegal activity that violated United States clean water laws.
“Clean, fresh water is our greatest resource in Northern Ohio,” said Steven M. Dettelbach, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio. “We will aggressively investigate and prosecute cases in which people pollute Ohio’s streams, rivers and lakes.”
Saying that the country’s “natural resources must be protected from illegal discharges,” Randall K. Ashe, special agent in charge of U.S. EPA’s criminal enforcement program in Ohio, added that “This prosecution sends a clear message that crimes against the environment will not be tolerated and will be vigorously prosecuted.”
Mike Settles, Ohio EPA spokesman, said the case was helped by members of the public who used the agency’s toll-free hotline to call in tips.
“In many instances, we rely on tips provided by the public and that was what happened in this case, which is a big one, given the volume of fish killed and the volume of impacted water,” Settles said.
“That toll-free number is there for a purpose and it certainly helped here.”
An arraignment hearing for the Montorsis and Kennedy Mint was scheduled for 2 p.m., Oct. 25 before federal judge John R. Adams in the federal government’s U.S. District Court in Akron.