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Feds anticipate guilty plea over MCHM leak

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Federal prosecutors on Wednesday asked a judge to schedule a hearing so that former Freedom Industries President Gary Southern can plead guilty to charges stemming from the January 2014 chemical leak.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Phil Wright filed a one-paragraph motion asking U.S. District Judge Thomas Johnston to set “a date, time, and location for a guilty plea hearing to be held with regard to defendant Gary Southern.”

Southern faces charges that he negligently operated Freedom’s Etowah Terminal, on the Elk River in Charleston, causing the Crude MCHM leak that contaminated drinking water for hundreds of thousands of residents in the Kanawha Valley and surrounding communities. He also faces charges that he tried to hide his personal fortune from Freedom’s bankruptcy case and from civil lawsuits filed over the leak.

U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin would not comment specifically on the Southern case beyond what his office said in its court filing.

Goodwin said, though, that his office files motions to schedule guilty pleas when “defendants have agreed to plead guilty to a federal charge or charges.”

In all, Southern faces 15 criminal charges that carry a maximum statutory penalty of 93 years in prison…

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