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Lab Owner Pleads Guilty to Underground Storage Tank Cleanup Fund Fraud
A recent investigation by the California Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program (ELAP) and the State Water Resources Control Board at the Cal Tech Environmental Laboratories (CTEL) in Paramount uncovered evidence of gaps in the chain of custody, altered data, poor housekeeping of laboratory equipment, failed quality control tests and improper reuse of sample containers. CTEL’s owner, Roobik Yaghoubi, has pleaded guilty to a felony charge of filing false information and overcharging for clean-up costs submitted to the State Water Board’s Underground Storage Tank Cleanup Fund.
Yaghoubi has been ordered to pay $190,000 in restitution to the State Water Board, including $70,000 already seized from his home and will serve 30 days of community service. CTEL had been in business since 1999 and was accredited by ELAP to analyze water and soil samples using specific wastewater and hazardous waste analytical methods. CTEL’s accreditation expired nearly two years ago.
“Accredited laboratories that produce high scientific integrity data are the centerpiece of all environmental protection programs,” said Christine Sotelo, chief of California’s ELAP. “This case is an important lesson for the laboratory community, in that we will aggressively pursue laboratories that violate state laws and regulations, and fail to produce data of known and documented quality.”
Financed by a 2-cent per gallon gasoline tax, the Underground Storage Tank (UST) Cleanup Fund is used to reimburse contractors who perform cleanup ups at petroleum leaks at underground storage tank facilities statewide up to $1.5 million per site. Approximately 8,700 sites have been remediated and closed since the UST Clean Up Fund’s inception in 1989. The fund has reimbursed more than $3.6 billion since 1992, including $132 million in 2016.
“Accurate and reliable analytical data is essential to ensure that state funds are being used appropriately and that threats to water quality are being negated,” said Yvonne West, director of the Office of Enforcement within the California State Water Resources Control Board. “The Office of Enforcement will vigorously investigate and prosecute unscrupulous individuals who defraud the people of the state and sacrifice water quality for financial gains.”
In addition to the State Water Board claimants, dozens of other clients throughout California — including environmental consultants, real estate and construction services, corrosion control services, activated carbon suppliers, waste management services, metal plating facilities and others – have used data produced and prepared by CTEL. If you or anyone you know has information or concerns about the quality of work or accuracy of a laboratory’s billing practices, you are encouraged to contact Jacob Oaxaca by email at: Jacob.Oaxaca@waterboards.ca.gov or by calling: 916-323-3433.