Big ‘Community Service’ Fine Won’t Stick to Citgo

     CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (CN) – The government cannot mask an excessive fine against Citgo for environmental crimes as community service, a federal judge ruled.
     Senior U.S. District Judge John Rainey granted Citgo’s motion to bar the fine, which is more than 20 times the maximum, on Tuesday.
     Citgo Petroleum and Citgo Refining and Chemicals were found guilty of violating the Clean Air Act after releasing harmful benzene into the air from two uncovered tanks. In addition to that violation, Citgo was convicted of violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act because it let birds land in the same tanks. Violation of the Clean Air Act is punishable by a $2 million fine. The bird law carries a maximum fine of $90,000.
     Federal authorities sought, however, to have Citgo pay an additional $44 million that would fund seven proposed community service projects as a condition of its probation.
     Even though the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 allows for the assignment of community service as a requirement of probation, Rainey found the government’s request inappropriate.
     “Even if the government is correct in its assertion that the court may order Citgo to make ‘community service payments’ to several charities so that those organizations may perform work in community service on Citgo’s behalf, the government cites no authority holding that these ‘indirect monetary sanctions’ – when coupled with any other fine imposed by the court – can exceed the maximum statutory fine,” Rainey wrote. “The court is unable to locate any such authority, and at least one state supreme court has explicitly held that they cannot.”
     It would be illegal to demand that Citgo pay more than the maximum penalties, no matter if the government or the charities received the money, Rainey concluded.
     The eight-page order points out that “payments to charities not directly harmed by Citgo’s crimes do not constitute restitution, because the charities are not victims of Citgo’s offenses.”
     Rainey granted victim status to the Texans affected by the emissions from the tanks on Friday. The group, which consists of about 300 community members, is seeking medical monitoring and a buy-out of certain residential properties as restitution.

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