Space Ordnance Systems, the Santa Clarita Valley aerospace and defense contractor, pleaded no contest Tuesday to 10 hazardous-waste charges and agreed to pay $300,000 in fines and investigative costs.
In return for the plea, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office said it would drop the other 77 misdemeanor counts that were filed against the company in 1984 after raids on its Mint Canyon and Sand Canyon plants near Canyon Country.
The plea bargain, which was accepted by Los Angeles Municipal Judge Xenophon F. Lang, involved three counts each of illegal hazardous-waste storage and transportation and four counts of illegal disposal--all stemming from company operations during the fall of 1983.
Lang scheduled sentencing for May 29, the same date set for sentencing two executives of the company who pleaded no contest a week ago. A third Space Ordnance official may enter a plea on Thursday.
Lawyers for Space Ordnance, or SOS, quickly left the courthouse after the brief appearance Tuesday, but a company official later expressed what he called a “sense of relief” that the case is over.
Burl Alison, a vice president of TransTechnology Corp. of Sherman Oaks, SOS’s corporate parent, said the plea was entered because “we didn’t feel we could justify the expense and the time that it would take for continued litigation.”
She said SOS officials are anxious to “regain credibility . . . as good corporate citizens” by moving ahead with the cleanup of tainted soil and ground water at the firm’s manufacturing sites.
Prosecutors said SOS will pay a $150,000 fine and another $150,000 to cover government investigative and legal expenses.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Clifford Klein described the settlement as a “very stiff price” for the company to pay, in light of the $2.2 million it may have to spend to correct the problems at its plant sites.
Klein said that, in negotiating the fine, prosecutors took into account the fears of some SOS neighbors that the company’s legal problems might block the cleanup.
“A number of residents out in the community expressed concern that, if the company went bankrupt, the area wouldn’t be cleaned up,” Klein said. “They were concerned with the company picking up and leaving them with a giant problem.”
Besides the costly cleanup, which will begin once state officials approve plans, SOS faces civil damage claims from angry neighbors who have accused the company of lowering the value of their property and endangering their health.
The assorted legal woes all stem from coordinated raids March 8, 1984, at the Mint Canyon and Sand Canyon plants by a platoon of state and county health and law-enforcement officers. The officials said they uncovered evidence that SOS had stored and transported hazardous waste without required permits and had disposed of solvent-contaminated waste water by dumping it along creek beds and spraying it from sprinklers.
In August, 1984, the company and three of its executives were charged with 87 misdemeanor violations of state and county hazardous-waste regulations.
Some of the charges involved a stockpile of 2,300 drums of explosive waste that SOS had no approval to store but no quick way to get rid of. Finally last year, the company virtually shut down production for several months to halt the accumulation of waste and spent more than $1 million to dispose of or recycle the material.
Former SOS President Joseph Cabaret, now a vice president with TransTechnology, pleaded no contest to three of the 87 counts last week and will serve 10 to 30 days in County Jail. Michael Murphy, former manager of the Mint Canyon plant, also pleaded no contest to three counts and will serve 30 weekend days in County Jail. Official sentencing is set for May 29.
The final defendant, James Smith, former director of administration for SOS, is scheduled to enter a plea Thursday on similar charges.
SOS manufactures decoy flares, pilot-ejection systems, explosive bolts and other special components of weapons systems and spacecraft.
During the fiscal year that ended March 31, company officials said, sales plummeted to about $15 million from the previous year’s mark of $25 million, largely because of the firm’s legal problems.
TransTechnology’s sales last year were $113 million, the same as the previous fiscal year.