A man caught illegally hauling drums of hazardous waste during an undercover sting operation last year has been sentenced to six years in prison, becoming the first Ventura County defendant sent to prison for an environmental crime.
Howard Bruce Nicholls, 42, of Ventura was convicted of unlawfully transporting hazardous waste and violating his probation on an unrelated felony charge.
"In this case, the court found the combination of the environmental crime along with the previous criminal conduct to be one that merited a state prison sentence," said Gregory W. Brose, supervising attorney for the consumer and environmental protection division of the county district attorney's office.
Thomas Richardson, 38, of Taft was convicted on the same charge of unlawful transportation of hazardous waste, but he was sentenced to 45 days in Ventura County Jail. Both men were fined $11,750 by Superior Court Judge Frederick A. Jones in separate sentencing hearings earlier this month.
The men were arrested Oct. 26 after undercover investigators from the district attorney's office answered a newspaper ad that stated: "Hazardous Waste Transport and Cleanup--Reasonable."
Investigators arranged to have the men dispose of two 55-gallon drums of a flammable organic compound. Richardson and two helpers picked up the drums at a Moorpark warehouse and drove them to a storage yard in Ventura where Nicholls had arranged to have them disposed.
Neither had licenses to transport or store hazardous waste, Brose said.
"We felt this was a state prison case . . . because of the fact that they advertised in the newspaper. They were clearly ready and willing to receive all takers. They knew that what they were doing, in our opinion, was unlawful . . . and had the potential to harm the environment."