TAMPA — Joey James Driggers says he tried to stop the flow of diesel fuel into an East Tampa waterway after realizing a storage tank he opened to drain contained more than just water.
But his boss insisted that the contaminant continue to run out, Driggers, 49, said Tuesday in federal court.
"I did know it was not right," Driggers said. "I wish I did disobey him."
Because he didn't and allowed the fuel to continue dumping into a storm drain along 34th Street, a judge sentenced Driggers to 15 months in federal prison. He has 30 days to turn himself in.
Driggers, of Tampa, pleaded guilty in October to illegally discharging a pollutant into a city storm drain.
U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday called it a "hideous abuse of our environment."
"It's a clear example of not giving a damn one way or another what the consequences were," Merryday said.
On Oct. 17, 2006, Driggers worked for Cypress Gulf Development Corp. as a mechanic. Supervisor William Styers told Driggers to place a 2,000-gallon fuel storage tank over the storm drain to empty it, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said the pollution case was solved because residents in the neighborhood called authorities when they saw Driggers emptying the fuel tank, and a city of Tampa employee who was in the area snapped pictures.
Styers pleaded guilty in December to a federal misdemeanor for illegally discharging a pollutant and received a sentence of one year of probation, 200 hours of community service and a $2,500 fine.
A. Fitzgerald Hall, Driggers' public defender, asked for a similar sentence. Hall said Driggers was simply following orders from his boss, like any good employee.
Before Driggers worked for Cypress Gulf Development Corp., he owned his own mechanic shop for 15 years.
"He was no stranger to fuels," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Cherie Krigsman, who requested prison time instead of probation.
She also objected to a request for leniency toward Driggers by labeling him as a minor participant. Krigsman explained that when the U.S. Attorney's Office offered Styers a plea deal, Driggers wasn't cooperating or giving investigators information.
She also said that Styers had no criminal record, which allowed for a different calculation of a sentence for Driggers. He has several criminal convictions on charges that included grand theft and dealing in stolen property.
Prosecutors estimated that 150 to 200 gallons of diesel fuel may have emptied into the 34th Street drain for about 20 to 25 minutes. The open ditches flow into the McKay Bay Preserve, part of the Tampa Bay National Estuary.
Cypress Gulf Development Corp. hired a crew to clean up the spill the next day for about $21,000.
The company also pleaded guilty to discharging a pollutant and was ordered to pay a $5,000 fine. Cypress Gulf also paid a $10,000 fine to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and a $3,000 fine to the Coast Guard.
Kevin Graham can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3433.