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5 get prison after 2012 military munition blast in Louisiana

November 30, 2018

FILE - In this Feb. 11, 2016, file photo provided by the Louisiana National Guard, a controlled burn chamber arrives at Camp Minden in Minden, La. A federal judge has sentenced the former owner of a company involved in an explosion and cleanup in Louisiana to pay $34 million and spend 4 years and seven months in prison. KTBS-TV reports that former owner David Alan Smith, of Winchester, Kentucky, and four officials of his Explo Systems Inc. were sentenced Thursday, Nor. 29, 2018, in Shreveport. (Noshoba Davis/Louisiana National Guard via AP, File)

SHREVEPORT, La. (AP) — A federal judge on Thursday ordered $34.8 million in restitution from the owner of a company that committed what a prosecutor calls the nation’s worst-ever dumping of military explosives -- a case stemming from a huge 2012 munitions blast. U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Foote also ordered David Alan Smith to spend 4 years and 7 months in prison.

Smith and four officials of his Explo Systems Inc. were sentenced in Shreveport. The four others drew sentences ranging from 2 to 5 years in prison and were ordered to repay the federal government a total of $598,000.

Explo Systems, which went bankrupt in 2013, had an $8.7 million Army contract to “demilitarize” artillery charges at a Louisiana National Guard facility called Camp Minden.

“The defendants sentenced today used Camp Minden here in northwest Louisiana as the largest illegal dumping ground of military explosives in the history of the United States - at over 15.6 million pounds of explosives,” U.S. Attorney David C. Joseph said in a statement.

“Those who endanger the safety of our community to satisfy their own greed will be held accountable,” he added.

The restitution adds up to $35.4 million. Prosecutors said the restitution to the government includes the $8.7 million contract to demilitarize weapons plus cleanup costs. When the company went under, it left 7,800 tons (7,100 metric tons) of potentially explosive M6 and 160 tons (145 metric tons) of clean-burning igniter, much of it outdoors or otherwise stored unsafely.

It all had to be moved safely to bunkers. Then, after years of debating how to get rid of the M6 and other materials, the National Guard hired Explosive Service International of Baton Rouge for $32 million to design a chamber to capture any pollution and to burn the materials.

Sentenced Thursday were Smith, 63 of Winchester, Kentucky; Vice President of Operations William Terry Wright, 65, of Bossier City, program manager Kenneth Wayne Lampkin, 66, of Haughton; traffic and inventory control manager Lionel Wayne Koons, 59, of Haughton and director of support technology Charles Ferris Callihan, 69, of Shreveport. All had pleaded guilty to charges earlier.

Explo Systems’ contract called for it to “demilitarize” more than 1.3 million artillery charges and safely store and get rid of the components. The company said it planned to sell the M6 propellant for mining.

The investigation began after the thunderous explosion at sprawling Camp Minden, a 15,000-acre (6,100 hectare) site. No one was hurt but the blast shattered windows miles (kilometers) away, created a 7,000-foot (2,130-meter) mushroom cloud and derailed 11 rail cars near the bunker.

Smith and Koons pleaded guilty early this year. Co-owner David Fincher of Burns, Tennessee, and the three other officials were scheduled for trial in April, but Fincher died days before the trial. The remaining defendants pleaded guilty over the next several months.

Smith pleaded guilty to one count each of conspiracy and making false statements, each carrying a maximum sentence of five years and a $250,000 fine. Koons and Lampkin pleaded to making false statements, Wright to conspiracy, and Callihan to filing false documents.

Wright and Callihan each got the longest possible prison term — 5 years for Wright and 2 for Callihan, who was ordered to pay $207,600.

Wright and Lampkin, who got 3 years and 9 months, were ordered to pay $149,000 each. Koons, ordered to pay nearly $93,000, was sentenced to 3 years and 5 months in prison.

Smith admitted lying about selling demilitarized powder to another company. As part of the conspiracy plea, he admitted preventing authorities from properly monitoring Explo’s operations at Camp Minden. His plea agreement recommended that he compensate the federal government for $35.4 million. That covered $8.7 million in contract losses plus cleanup costs at Camp Minden, prosecutors said.

Lampkin admitted knowing that Explo didn’t have space to safely store the M6, and sending an email falsely claiming that Explo had sold more than 148 tons of it to another company, forging the signature of an official of that company.

Wright, the last to plead guilty, admitted that he and others caused improper and unsafe storage of M6 and hazardous waste, obstructed federal inspections, and falsified forms from purported buyers.

Koons admitted that after Louisiana State Police halted shipments because Explo had no remaining storage space, he emailed the Army to put further deliveries on hold, claiming it was because of an audit.

Callihan acknowledged that he didn’t let the owner of a private landfill for non-hazardous waste know that asphalt he sent there was contaminated with TNT.

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