Roy Paul Gressly, who owned and operated at least a half-dozen hazardous waste hauling businesses, eluded regulators' detection for years as he moved from one location to another.
Sometimes he left toxic waste behind, court records state, and sometimes he took it with him. If not for a leaking tanker truck, he might still be hoarding an illegal stockpile of hazardous material on an industrial lot in Santa Fe Springs.
After a neighboring business owner spotted a stream of black sludge moving toward a storm drain, firefighters traced the flow to Gressly's rented site on Greenstone Avenue. There they found an array of 55-gallon drums and other containers including 25 to 30 filled with cleaning wastes from spray-paint guns, according to fire department records. Others held metal grindings and other potentially dangerous material.
"To be honest with you, I've been sitting on this stuff for like five years," Gressly told an investigator in 2010, court records show.
Gressly, 49, was charged last January with six felonies for the unlawful storage, transportation and disposal of hazardous waste. In June he pleaded no contest and this week was sentenced in Los Angeles County Superior Court in Norwalk to 120 days in jail and three years' probation. He also was fined $7,500 and ordered to pay $228,000 in restitution to former customers and landlords.
"This type of illegal conduct will be investigated fully, and those responsible will be held accountable," said Reed Sato, chief counsel for the state Department of Toxic Substances Control.
Gressly's case was one of only a handful of criminal prosecutions in recent years stemming from investigations by the toxics agency. Department officials said last fall, however, that they had stepped up enforcement efforts against rogue transporters and had begun searching their database of hazardous waste manifests to identify unlicensed haulers.
More than 900 hazardous waste transporters are registered with the department, but most have not been heavily or regularly scrutinized. In the fiscal year ending in 2013, the department inspected only 26 transporters, or fewer than 3%.
Gressly apparently flew under regulators' radar for years, frequently changing addresses and reincarnating his business under new names. At least twice, after collecting fees from customers to dispose of their waste legally, he instead abandoned the waste, costing his landlords thousands of dollars to get rid of it, officials said.
Gressly, who will begin serving his sentence in February, could not be reached for comment. His attorney did not respond to requests for comment.