House of Raeford found guilty of fouling water

Published 7:53 pm Tuesday, August 21, 2012

WINSTON-SALEM (AP) — A federal jury convicted poultry processor House of Raeford Farms on 10 counts of polluting the local sewer system, but the plant manager was acquitted on all charges.
The U.S. Department of Justice said that, for 16 months, the poultry producer allowed employees to send untreated wastewater contaminated with blood, grease and body parts from slaughtered turkeys directly to the city of Raeford’s wastewater treatment plant.
Monday’s verdicts capped a weeklong trial in federal court in Winston-Salem. The convictions could result in a $5 million fine.
A federal judge had previously dismissed the case because prosecutors failed to expeditiously bring it to trial. But the judge later allowed prosecutors to revive the case.
The new indictment, filed June 26, charged the company with sending contaminated wastewater to a municipal treatment plant in Raeford on 14 occasions from 2005 to August 2006.

The company said that the government admitted during the trial that none of the materials it said went into the town’s sewer system reached the environment.

Records show that the town and the company had an agreement for the company to upgrade its wastewater pre-treatment system in September 2006. This $1.4 million upfit “solved the issues that led to the trial,” the company said.

Plant manager Gregory Steenblock faced a 14-count indictment. He was accused of being responsible for the discharges and for allowing them despite hearing complaints and warnings from his employees. He faced up to 42 years in prison had he been convicted.

Company officials said they were pleased than Steenblock was found not guilty. Through his attorney, he declined comment.

“We were able to convince the jury that he was doing the best he could to prevent these type of things from occurring,” attorney Jerry Beaver of Fayetteville said, citing a post-trial conversation with the jurors. “They thought that he made his best effort to try to control a very difficult situation.”

Sentencing for the company is scheduled for Nov. 28 at the federal courthouse in Winston-Salem.