A federal jury begins deliberations today in the case against a Vancleave developer, his daughter and an engineer accused of violating the Clean Water Act.
GULFPORT, Miss. — A federal jury begins deliberations today in the case against a Vancleave developer, his daughter and an engineer accused of violating the Clean Water Act.
Big Hill Acres developer Robert J. Lucas, Jr.; his daughter Robbie Lucas Wrigley, who sold the lots; and engineer M.E. Thompson, Jr. are accused of violating the Clean Water Act, conspiracy and fraud.
If found guilty, the defendants could face up to 30 years in prison and $1 million in fines.
In closing statements Thursday, prosecutors recounted testimony of Big Hill Acres residents that sewage had run through and pooled in their yards.
Prosecutors compared installing an underground septic system in a federally protected wetland to sinking a septic tank into a river.
They alleged the defendants defrauded residents by selling them wetlands that did not have the capacity to support septic systems, and thwarted attempts by the state and federal regulatory agencies to stop development.
"(The evidence) shows a record of evasion and a pattern of arrogance," said U.S. Attorney Jeremy Korzenik, who specializes in environmental crimes for the U.S. Justice Department.
Prosecutors assert the wetlands on the 2,600-acre subdivision drain into the Mississippi Sound and failed septic systems may have contaminated navigable waterways. But defense attorneys argued that Big Hill Acres is not adjacent to navigable U.S. waterways and should not be considered wetlands protected under the Clean Water Act.
Defense attorneys said their clients could not have violated the Clean Water Act because they did not know the land was considered a wetland.
"There is no evidence in this case that any particle of dirt reached a navigable waterway," said Phil Wittman, an attorney for Lucas. "The EPA wants you to hold Mr. Lucas responsible even though he had no control of how homeowners were using their systems.
Defense attorneys also tried to poke holes in the prosecutors' conspiracy allegations.
"If you examine the conspiracy theory from Lucas to the board of supervisors, there are 20 people involved," said Tim Holleman, Wrigley's attorney. "Where is the proof an illegal agreement has been made? This time the government is wrong. This time their theory does not hold up against a logical test."
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