New DEP Environmental Crimes Unit Makes First Arrest

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New DEP Environmental Crimes Unit Makes First Arrest

~Christopher L. Hughes of Tampa arrested for felony dumping~

TAMPA, Fla. – Yesterday, Investigator Steve Hough with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP’s) Southwest District Environmental Crimes Unit arrested Tampa resident Christopher Hughes, who was charged with felony dumping for commercial purposes.

On Tuesday, July 2, 2019, DEP received a notification through the State Watch Office that a potential environmental crime occurred in Seminole Heights on July 1. Investigator Hough, with assistance from DEP Southwest District Office Investigator Chad Paul, conducted an investigation and found video evidence of the suspect dumping two drums of acrylic cure seal, a corrosive material, into a Tampa alley. The cleanup is estimated at over $10,000,  making it a felony offense.

On July 10, 2019, Investigator Hough conducted a traffic stop after observing the vehicle approximately four blocks away from the scene of the crime. After a brief interview, the suspect confessed to the dumping and the arrest was made.

“Governor DeSantis has made it clear that enforcement of the state’s environmental laws is expected. The Department is committed to implementing this direction. With the official transfer of the Environment Crimes Unit to DEP becoming effective less than two weeks ago, we are not wasting any time using this new key enforcement tool,” said DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein.

DEP will hire a contactor to perform the cleanup, and will pursue recovery of these cleanup costs through the legal process. These funds come from and are reallocated to the Inland Protection Trust fund, which provides  financial resources for prevention of, and cleanup and rehabilitation after, a pollutant discharge, to prevent further damage by the pollutant, and to pay for damages. Hughes also was charged with driving without a valid license and driving a car with a registration not assigned to him, both misdemeanor offenses.

“This arrest is an example of how DEP’s new crime unit will coordinate with our compliance staff and Office of Emergency Response, resulting in more environmental crimes being identified and addressed through appropriate enforcement, as well as ensuring any necessary cleanup will occur,” said DEP Southwest District Director Mary Yeargan.

On January 10, 2019, Governor Ron DeSantis issued Executive Order 19-12, Achieving More Now for Florida’s Environment which directed the transfer of the Environmental Crimes Enforcement Unit from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission back to DEP to better align resources focused on environmental protection and ensure strong enforcement of Florida's environmental laws.

This transfer, effective July 1, 2019, provides DEP with 19 new law enforcement positions, 16 of which are dedicated law enforcement investigators that will be housed in regulatory offices statewide.