TX’s Williams Brothers Construction Settles Felony Hazardous Waste Case

Wed February 18, 2004 - West Edition

HOUSTON (AP) One of the state’s largest road construction companies has agreed to pay $500,000 to settle felony charges of illegally dumping hazardous waste into Houston waterways.

The deal between the Harris County district attorney’s office and Williams Brothers Construction Co. requires that the Houston-based company pay for construction of a 4-mi. biking and hiking trail near downtown Houston.

In December 2002, the company and several workers were indicted for dumping concrete sludge and oil waste into a city bayou and a drainage ditch in 2001. Investigators learned about the dumping of the toxic material from an anonymous tip.

The company had faced four felony charges with a maximum fine of about $770,000, but the charges will be dismissed once Williams Brothers pays for the trail, Assistant District Attorney Eric Bily told the Houston Chronicle.

Environmentalists criticized the deal, in which Williams Brothers admits no wrongdoing.

“Dismissing the indictment eliminates this information from being used in later prosecutions, and weakens the hand of future prosecutors,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, executive director of Public Citizen of Texas. “We are concerned about these kinds of deals, because we need to have these criminal records to be able to decide whether you can trust a company to comply with the law.”

Last year, District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal returned a $2,500 re-election campaign check from Williams Brothers owner James D. Pitcock Jr. amid criticism that it was inappropriate to take money from the owner of a company his office was prosecuting.

As part of the settlement, two Williams Brothers employees pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges and received a year of probation. A third employee, Kevin Parker, did not accept the deal because he insists he did nothing wrong. An April 19 trial is scheduled for Parker on a felony water pollution charge.

Williams Brothers holds state contracts totaling $688 million. Charles Gaskin, director of construction for the Texas Department of Transportation’s Houston district, said the deal won’t affect the company’s state contracts.

“Williams Brothers is glad that the matter has been resolved in a positive way for the city, the environment and the company,” company attorney Robert Sussman said.