WAYNESBURG — A Greene County judge was moved to tears Friday as he sentenced a local businessman to probation for illegally dumping thousands of gallons of wastewater across the region and defrauding 17 companies and many area municipalities from 2003 through 2009.
Judge Farley Toothman noted the personal tragedies in Robert Allan Shipman’s life, notably, the suicide of his teenage stepdaughter, and sentenced Shipman to seven years’ probation, easing the penalty agreed to — which called for up to 16 months behind bars — when Shipman pleaded guilty to theft and illegal dumping in February.
“When you were caught red-handed, you admitted it,” Toothman said as Shipman quietly wept. “ I am compelled to note in a moment of silent memory the devastation of the suicide of your stepdaughter.”
The jurist said imprisoning Shipman would do little to further punish him, because he’s suffered greatly since he was charged.
State prosecutors charged Shipman, 50, of New Freeport with dumping waste, including production water from natural gas drilling operations, sludge from sewage treatment plants and grease water from restaurants, by mixing it with other waste that could be easily dumped. The method, which was called “cocktailing,” meant that the waste he was being paid by area businesses to process and dump was being passed off as waste that needed no special treatment and was dumped in different areas in Fayette, Greene, Washington, Allegheny, Lawrence and Westmoreland counties.
The reason the wastes were mixed was two-fold, prosecutors charged: it enabled Shipman to conceal the true nature of the waste, and he was able to increase the volume of disposals billed to customers.
Agents filed more than 200 charges against Shipman and his business, Allan’s Waste Water Service Inc. of Holbrook. Under the terms of the plea agreement, most of the charges were dropped.
Following the day-long sentencing hearing, Toothman found Shipman should receive a mitigated-range probationary sentence, but also ordered him to spend 5 hours a week for the next seven years working with a local water conservation group to help atone for his mistakes.
While Toothman showed leniency to Shipman, he also took the opportunity to scold him for his disregard to the local environment and praised prosecutors for filing the charges against him.
“These crimes are significant, and pollution is a serious crime,” Toothman said. “By illegally dumping these polluted liquids, you caused serious injuries to our waterways ... these are dastardly crimes.”
A parade of character witnesses took the stand on Shipman’s behalf, detailing acts of kindness, ranging from putting a friend’s daughter through college to paying for funeral costs for two families that had children die to personally undertaking renovations at West Greene High School and a local church.
Psychologist Dr. Michael Crabtree testified that Shipman suffers from depression caused by his stepdaughter’s suicide and a suicide attempt by his wife, Carolyn “Bunny” Shipman, in the last six months. Shipman also has a fear of going to prison, Crabtree said.
Shipman cried on the stand as he described his fall from grace as a prominent local businessman to an unemployed father struggling to care for his children and ailing wife.
He told defense attorney Christopher Blackwell that he has relinquished all ties with his companies, which also included Tri-County — a waste water treatment plant — and now intends to raise beef cattle.
“I’m sorry for what happened, I really am,” Shipman said. “I’m sorry for the pollution stuff my company caused.”
Deputy Attorney General Amy Carnicella told the court that Shipman was a modern-day Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, showing great concern for friends and family while engaging in dirty business practices.
She argued that the case, which drew national attention, was an opportunity for Toothman to set a precedent regarding pollution at the start of the gas well boom across the region.
“This industry needs to be sent a message,” she said.
She also argued that Shipman would not be financially burdened by serving jail time because Shipman and his wife have more than $180,000 in their bank accounts and stand to make more than $2 million for the recent sale of Tri-County.
Shipman received about $257,000 from over-billing, according to grand jury findings that initiated the case.
He paid full restitution and paid $125,000 to cover additional fines.
Shipman said he's "sorry for the pollution stuff...stuff???....his company caused....Give be a break!!! Him and that judge should BOTH go to jail!!![angry]
Wake up Amerika!!!!
Moved to tears, Judge Toothman? Well, I'm moved to tears that you give a pass to a man who has negatively impacted our precious drinking water to make a dishonest buck. How many children will contract cancer as a result of this man's crimes, Judge Toothman? Will you be weeping tears for them?
This criminal's personal challenges have nothing whatsoever to do with this matter, and are wholly irrelevant to his repayment of debt to society. Not one of us is without tragedies. Not one. By that standard, the prisons would be empty.
Evidently Mr. Shipman hasn't had enough tragedy to prevent him from hiring expensive psychologists and lawyers to provide the judge with a flimsy basis for this ridiculous decision. We all should suffer so.
You claimed that Shipman has a fear of going to prison, Dr. Crabtree? Really?! Brilliant! This begs the question: do criminals at your bench often receive probation if they claim that they're afraid of prison, Judge Toothman? Again, by that standard, prisons would be empty.
What of dissuading the next polluter, Judge Toothman? Why wouldn't the next filthy criminal just say he had a memory lapse, and expect merely a severe scolding instead of jail time?
The public should demand a full investigation of this heinous decision. It stinks to high heaven.
It is a dark day for all in Greene County who drink water.
Judge Toothman? While you are spending the bribe, consider that God made those creeks and forests and He is going to remember your utter worthlessness. You are a despicable excuse for the judiciary. The cancers that will be inflicted by these poisons will be remembered and laid at your door for you were supposed to punish those responsible and you did not. Perhaps your relations won't be struck but those whose relations are will remember you (and Shipman and his filthy souled family) with the contempt you deserve. You'll get yours, now or later.
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