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Treatment business fined over dirty water

Published Sep. 10, 2005

The numbers seemed a little fuzzy to city officials.

Wastewater from a grease-treatment company was a bit too clean, so suspicious city officials passed along their concerns to the state Department of Environmental Protection. An investigation began.

In the end, the hunch was correct. Grease Depot Inc. fabricated company tests to give the impression its wastewater was cleaner than it actually was, federal prosecutors said.

The readings were important because Largo wastewater fees are based on how difficult it is to clean a company's wastewater. The higher the numbers, the more Grease Depot would have to pay the city.

Last week, Grease Depot pleaded guilty to violating the U.S. Clean Water Act. The company agreed to pay $154,000 in fines and fees and was placed on two years' probation, court records show.

"That's great," City Manager Steven Stanton, unaware of the agreement, said Tuesday.

George Tragos, the attorney who represented Grease Depot, said the company declined to comment. The company remains in business.

This was not the first time Grease Depot ran afoul with regulators. In 1999, the city accused the company of exceeding the amount of pollutants allowed in wastewater and charged it additional wastewater treatment fees, court records show.

Too much pollutant could damage the city's wastewater treatment system, city officials said.

New tests in January 2000 showed that the company's water again exceeded levels. But instead of submitting those results to the city, Grease Depot ordered a retest of its water, prosecutors said.

The new test showed lower readings, which in turn saved the company $1,451 in penalties, according to the company's plea agreement.

Joe Carlini, the city's wastewater division manager, said such violations are rare.

"It's unfortunate, but it does happen," he said.