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Freedom officials plead guilty in leak probe

Charleston Gazette photo by The Associated Press Former Freedom Industries official William Tis (left) leaves the U.S. District Court in Charleston on Monday with his attorney, Kathleen Gallagher.
Charleston Gazette photo by The Associated Press
Former Freedom Industries official William Tis (left) leaves the U.S. District Court in Charleston on Monday with his attorney, Kathleen Gallagher.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Two former Freedom Industries officials pleaded guilty Monday to criminal water pollution charges related to the January 2014 chemical leak that contaminated the drinking water for hundreds of thousands of people in the Kanawha Valley and surrounding communities.

William E. Tis and Charles E. Herzing each entered a plea of guilty to a misdemeanor charge of illegally discharging the chemical Crude MCHM into the Elk River. Each faces a statutory minimum of 30 days and a maximum of one year in prison, along with fines of up to $25,000 per day of violation.

“Guilty, your honor,” Tis told U.S. District Judge Thomas Johnston during a morning plea hearing in Charleston.

In separate deals with federal prosecutors, Tis, 60, and Herzing, 64, each pleaded guilty to one count of a three-count indictment that originally charged them with violations of the Clean Water Act and the Refuse Act.

Tis and Herzing had originally pleaded not guilty in January to the charges brought as part of an investigation by U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin, the FBI and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of the leak of the coal-cleaning chemical MCHM from an aging and poorly maintained storage tank at Freedom’s Etowah Terminal, located just 1.5 miles upstream from West Virginia American Water’s regional drinking water intake…

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