×

Kern County Group Files RICO Lawsuit Against Governor and Oil Companies

LOS ANGELES, June 3, 2015 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The Committee to Protect Agricultural Water, a citizen organization comprised of farmers and individuals concerned about California's drinking water, filed a civil Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) complaint in Federal Court. The RICO Complaint alleges that Governor Jerry Brown's office ordered the California Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources ("DOGGR") to approve permits to inject contaminated water in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The lawsuit alleges that "The Oil Companies, Governor's Office, Director of Conservation Mark Nechodom, State Oil & Gas Supervisor Tim Kustic, Director of the Kern County Planning and Development Department Lorelei Oviatt, DOGGR, WSPA, CIPA, and others known and unknown, formed an "enterprise" ("the Enterprise") to achieve through illegal means the goal of increasing oil production and maximizing profits and tax revenue by allowing the Oil Companies to inject salt water into fresh water in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act."

"The Enterprise sought to minimize labor expenses that would have arisen if they followed the law while at the same time taking federal funds under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Because of these actions, the Enterprise deprived members of the Committee to Protect Agricultural Water fresh water, fair opportunities to earn an income, and honest government services," said lead attorney R. Rex Parris.

"In the summer of 2012, Sodium chloride (salt) levels increased to such a level, the chloride in underground water exceeded the maximum contaminant level allowed under the law. The excess chloride started damaging orchards. By the end of the year, one local farmer had to remove his cherry trees." "California is experiencing the greatest drought of this generation, and protecting fresh water is of paramount concern," added Parris.

"This landmark RICO lawsuit against the state of California, DOGGR, and the Oil Companies is certain to have far-reaching implications," said lead attorney R. Rex Parris. According to the complaint, "Timothy Kustic promised oil companies a "flexible" approach to approving permits. As a result, permit approvals went from the typical 50 permits a year to 1,575 permits in 2012 alone," stated Parris.

Parris added, "The oil companies, refused to provide geological and engineering studies, showing the safety of injecting contaminated water into aquifers. These studies would highlight two problems. Oil companies were injecting directly into an aquifer or injecting near wells with damaged casings that could leak into the aquifer. Oil companies would have to hire more workers to fix these problems." said Parris. "Every month, Occidental and Chevron directly pump 2.63 times more toxic waste water into the San Joaquin Aquifer than oil released into the Gulf during the entire BP spill."

According to the complaint, "In 2015, Defendant Mark Nechodom testified before the California Senate, telling them that DOGGR had not focused on whether oil companies directly injected into federally protected waters (specifically aquifers not exempted from the Safe Drinking Water Act) because DOGGR was so focused on hydraulic fracturing."

However, this was not how Kustic described the status of the underground injection control (UIC) program to the United States Environmental Protection Agency on June 7, 2012. Kustic reassured the opposite: he exchanged emails with the EPA, telling them that hydraulic fracturing had the media's attention, but "the bulk of our resources are going towards the Underground Injection Control (UIC) program improvements." "Nechodom's testimony was false and misleading, done to cover-up the violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act that should have led to indictments, stated Parris."

The lawsuit alleges that "Lorelei Oviatt, the Director of the Kern County Planning and Development Department, knew of complaints by farmers and of environmental problems before anyone else in the community. She used her position to delay public notice of the problems and to block efforts to adopt environmental laws protecting Kern County residents." "Nechodom exchanged emails with Oviatt in which he thanked Oviatt for her support. Nechodom noted that he was "delighted to have you and Kern Co. as a partner (unindicted co-conspirator?)." (Emphasis added.) Oviatt agreed with Nechodom in email – "We all have the same goal."

"The fundamental goal of the Enterprise and conspiracy was to preserve and expand the ability to inject underground chemicals and toxic waste, thereby expanding their oil production and maximizing profits, including tax revenues and funding from federal sources, regardless of the impact on fresh water. This deprived the Committee members of fresh water, fair opportunities to earn an income, and honest government services."

"Defendants acted in concert with each other to further their fraudulent scheme. Each Defendant has participated in the operation and management of the Enterprise and has committed numerous acts to maintain and expand the Enterprise." "This Enterprise and conspiracy still continues to this day" stated attorney Patricia K. Oliver, with the R. Rex Parris law firm.

"To avoid discovery, Defendants also engaged in a widespread scheme to frustrate public scrutiny by making false and deceptive statements and concealing documents (including documents under the California Public Records Act.) DOGGR and Defendants Brown, Kustic, and Oviatt suppressed research, destroyed documents, and refused to provide all information requested under the California Public Records Act," said Parris.

"The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created." See, Ca. Gov. Code § 11120," said Parris.

"In sum, the lawsuit alleges that Defendants engaged in racketeering activity that included numerous acts indictable under 18 U.S.C. § 371 (conspiracy to defraud the United States); 18 U.S.C. §§ 241 (intimidation of any person engaged in free exercise of speech or any Constitutional right); 1341 (mail fraud), 1343 (wire fraud), 1346.43 (honest services), 1512 (b) (intimidating and threatening witnesses), and 1513(b) (intimidating and threatening witnesses). By violating these laws, rules, and regulations, the Oil Companies are causing unnecessary destruction of agriculture and farmland. The Oil Companies, moreover, are unnecessarily polluting the air, land, and water in Kern County," concluded Parris.

A copy of the complaint can be viewed here

About The R. Rex Parris Law Firm

For over 30 years, R. Rex Parris has devoted his practice to protecting the rights of injured people and aggrieved workers. Rex and his dedicated team provide thorough, high-quality representation with integrity and compassion. From motor vehicle crashes to class actions and defective products, these lawyers fight aggressively against corporate defense attorneys and insurance companies to ensure their clients get the compensation they deserve. For more information, visit rrexparris.com

CONTACT: Patricia Oliver (661) 949-2595 poliver@rrexparris.com Dante Hickles (661) 949-2595 or dhickles@rrexparris.comSource: R. Rex Parris Law Firm