Convicted of Lying to Congress : Rita Lavelle Surrenders at Prison for 6-Month Term

From Times Wire Services

Rita M. Lavelle, former head of the Environmental Protection Agency’s toxic waste Superfund, surrendered Friday at a federal prison to serve a six-month sentence for lying to Congress.

Lavelle, 37, arrived at 11:15 a.m. at the minimum-security Federal Correctional Institution in this small town about 40 miles southeast of San Francisco.

“It is totally ludicrous that I have to go through with this,” Lavelle told reporters. “But I’ve made a decision to end two years of hell and go through with it.”


” . . . I Was Framed”

“The American people know I was framed,” she added.

Lavelle was found guilty in December, 1983, of lying to a House subcommittee investigating a scandal in the EPA over toxic waste cleanup programs.

Twenty-two persons, including former Administrator Anne McGill Burford, were fired or resigned as a result of the affair. Lavelle was the only one indicted and is the only member of the Administration to be convicted of a felony involving official duties.

Lavelle blamed “people in the Justice Department and people in the White House,” for making her a scapegoat.

“It’s a disincentive for people to go to Washington and open yourself to this kind of abuse,” she said. “Why are they spending taxpayer money to frame Rita Lavelle?”

Admits She Is Scared

But Lavelle seemed resigned to prison, although she said: “I don’t know what I’m going to be doing, and I’m scared.”

William Cowan, director of security, said she will not be segregated from other prisoners.

“She’ll undergo a week of orientation and be assigned to some sort of work unit--food service, cleaning, or maybe the furniture factory,” Cowan said.

The prison, completed in 1974, houses 565 inmates, including 365 women. Newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst was incarcerated there after her conviction for robbing a bank along with her kidnapers, the Symbionese Liberation Army.

With time off for good behavior, Lavelle could be released in five months.

Testimony on Aerojet

Lavelle’s conviction concerned testimony on the timing of her discovery that her former employer, Aerojet General Corp. of Sacramento, was one of the companies dumping toxic waste at the Stringfellow Acid Pits near Riverside.

She testified she did not know Aerojet was involved until June 17, 1982, when she began abstaining from decisions on Stringfellow because the EPA wanted dumpers to pay the cost of the cleanup.

Other EPA officials testified at her trial that she was informed of Aerojet’s involvement at a meeting on May 28, 1982. Several days after that meeting, but before June 17, she warned Aerojet that it might face a federal lawsuit to recover cleanup costs.

The lawsuit, filed later, did not include Aerojet because its waste was less than 1% of the total at Stringfellow.

Meanwhile, Lavelle’s attorney, Jim Bierbower, said Friday that he had filed a petition with the Supreme Court to rehear her case.