U.S. attorney says charges in Freedom case a ‘first step’

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said Tuesday he anticipates further developments in the criminal investigation into the Jan. 9 chemical spill and water emergency “very soon.”

Booth Goodwin
Booth Goodwin

Goodwin made an appearance on MetroNews Talkline detailing three criminal charges filed Monday against former Freedom Industries President and CEO Gary Southern. It’s alleged Southern created a scheme in an attempt to remove himself from liability in the Freedom spill of MCHM and the company’s bankruptcy case that followed. Southern allegedly committed bankruptcy fraud, lied in the bankruptcy case and allegedly committed wire fraud.

Goodwin said there are more liabilities than assets in bankruptcy cases and the truth is essential.

“Courts, law enforcement, especially bankruptcy courts, have to rely on people being truthful. It’s absolutely essential to our system of justice,” Goodwin said.

Goodwin’s office launched an investigation within hours after the spill of MCHM from the Freedom tank farm just a half-mile up the Elk River from West Virginia American Water Company’s Kanawha Valley Plant in Charleston. The spill forced a Do Not Use water order and contaminated the drinking water for approximately 300,000 state residents in parts of nine counties. Goodwin said Tuesday the bankruptcy-related charges against Southern are just a start.

“We’ve had a fairly broad investigation and we’ve stayed after it and certainly you can expect further developments in that investigation very soon,” Goodwin promised.

Claims in federal bankruptcy court following the Freedom spill have topped $150 million, Southern’s worth is believed to be more than $7 million.

Southern was arrested Monday in Florida and was scheduled for an initial appearance Tuesday afternoon before a federal magistrate in Fort Myers, Fla.

Goodwin said again Tuesday no stone is being left unturned in the Freedom probe.

“Everyone or every entity involved in this matter is part of our ongoing investigation,” he said.

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