By David Gutman
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Freedom Industries, the company responsible for contaminating the water of 300,000 Kanawha Valley residents, was founded by a two-time convicted felon, benefited from the 2009 federal stimulus and at least two of its executives have longstanding ties to the Charleston business community.
Since the chemical spill on Thursday, Freedom Industries executives have entirely avoided media requests, except for a brief news conference Friday night.
On Sunday morning, Charles Ryan Associates, a prominent Charleston public relations firm hired by Freedom, abruptly dropped the chemical distributor as a client.
“I made the decision not to represent them,” said Susan Lavenski, who was handling Freedom for Charles Ryan. She would not give any details as to why she would no longer represent the company.
Freedom Industries was founded in 1992 by Gary Southern and Carl Lemley Kennedy II, according to filings with the West Virginia secretary of state. The company’s website, however, says it was founded in 1986.
“Our friends and our neighbors, this incident is extremely unfortunate, unanticipated and we are very, very sorry for the disruption to everybody’s daily life that this incident has caused,” Southern, the company’s president, said at the news conference Friday night. “It has been an extremely long day, I’m having trouble talking at the moment. I would appreciate it if we could wrap this thing up.”
He has not spoken publicly since.
Kennedy is still listed as “incorporator” with the secretary of state, but a woman who answered the phone at Freedom Industries on Friday said he left the company “years ago…”