The President of Freedom Industries, the company that contaminated the drinking water of 300,000 West Virginians last January, has been charged by the FBI with wire fraud, bankruptcy fraud, and lying under oath during the company’s bankruptcy proceedings.
Southern allegedly concocted an elaborate scheme to distance himself from lawsuits and the company and to “deflect blame” to other parties. Southern’s personal fortune of $8 million was at risk, so of course anything goes.
Mere weeks before the spill, with full knowledge of the delapidated state of the Etowah facility where the spill occurred, Freedom was sold to Chemstream Industries.
FBI agent James F Lafferty said in a sworn affidavit:
Shortly after the leak and discharge of MCHM into the Elk River was discovered on January 9, 2014, Southern engaged in a pattern of deceitful behavior, which included numerous false and/or fraudulent statements about his role at Freedom, his role in the sale of Freedom to Chemstream, and his knowledge about conditions at the Etowah Facility.
Southern began lying about his involvement with Freedom about the same time the FBI and EPA began an investigation into the spill, stating that he never worked for Freedom before the company was sold to Chemstream in December 2013. That lie happened under oath, so when the truth began to come out, Southern tried to back pedal.
He admitted to being a “part-time, financial type consultant” for Freedom, when he actually served as the Company’s Chief Operating Officer and served on its Board of Directors as far back as 2010.
Southern had asked to be compensated for his working time during the spill, claiming he worked twelve to sixteen hour days to help resolve the issue. Environmental leaders have said that Southern was absent from the moment the spill happened.
Many remember Southern as the man who refused to talk to reporters, instead taking a sip of bottled water, a particularly unwelcome “screw you” to West Virginians.
Hopefully Southern can’t buy his way out of the mess he created and loses his multi-million dollar home on Marco Island, Florida. West Virginians are looking for a little bit of karma to swing in his direction.