Lab Owner Pleads Guilty to Charges of Submitting Falsified Water Testing Reports to Municipalities
Michael Carlson, 57, of Westford, pled guilty on Friday to charges of making false reports to the MassDEP (50 counts), Larceny under $250 (2 counts), and Larceny over $250 (2 counts). Middlesex Superior Court Judge Wendie Gershengorn sentenced Carlson to one year in the House of Corrections with the sentence suspended for a probationary period of five years. Under the terms of the probation conditions, Carlson must also perform 400 hours of community service and would only be permitted to work as a chemist under supervision. Judge Gershengorn also ordered Carlson to pay a $35,000 fine to the Commonwealth; $15,000 to the Northeast Environmental Enforcement Project, an organization dedicated to environmental protection and education; and $3,500 in restitution to the affected communities.
The integrity of public drinking water systems is based on regular water testing by qualified laboratories. The failure to properly test samples or the reporting of false results undermines the system that allows MassDEP to determine whether a public water supply is safe. False reporting threatens and endangers the public health.
"Several communities relied on the services of Mr. Carlson to ensure that their water was being properly tested and determined safe. By falsifying water testing results, Mr. Carlson put residents at risk of contracting bacterial diseases," said AG Coakley. "The people of the Commonwealth deserve to assume that their public water supply is getting tested and is safe. This office will continue to hold those who violate public health laws accountable."
"Communities across the Commonwealth use tax dollars to ensure that their residents can drink safe, healthy water. Those citizens expect that the labs that are paid for this important analytical work will do the job right," said MassDEP Commissioner Laurie Burt. "The MassDEP Strike Force will vigorously investigate and prosecute any drinking water sampling and lab testing case where tampering or data omission is alleged."
The charges against Carlson stem from an investigation by the Massachusetts Environmental Crimes Strike Force (ECSF) that commenced following an unannounced enforcement inspection at Thorstensen Laboratory conducted in December 2008 by the MassDEP Laboratory Certification Program. Following that inspection, MassDEP revoked Thorstensen Laboratory's entire certification to conduct scientific tests on water supplies as well as on waste water.
The investigation found that Carlson had long-term contracts with Ashby, Carlisle, Harvard, and Lawrence to conduct scientific tests on the safety of water supplies. Thorstensen was decertified by MassDEP in August of 2007 and March of 2008 for several tests on water supplies based on deficiencies observed during routine on-site inspections, Carlson informed MassDEP that he would subcontract these scientific tests to other labs that were certified and thus remain in business. The investigation found that Carlson was not, in fact, subcontracting out these tests, but was instead manipulating the lab results to make them appear as if they had been conducted by certified laboratories, when the water samples had either not been tested at all or had been tested at Thorstensen, a lab that had been decertified.
A Middlesex Grand Judy returned the indictments against Carlson on June 9, 2009. Carlson was arraigned on July 21, 2009 in Middlesex Superior Court. At arraignment he entered a plea of not guilty and was released on personal recognizance. On Friday, he pled guilty in Middlesex Superior Court and was sentenced.
This case was investigated by the Massachusetts Environmental Crimes Strike Force (ECSF), an interagency unit that includes prosecutors from the Attorney General's Office, Environmental Police Officers assigned to the Attorney General's Office, and investigators and engineers from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP). The ECSF is overseen by Attorney General Martha Coakley, MassDEP Commissioner Laurie Burt and Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Ian A. Bowles. The ECSF investigates and prosecutes crimes that harm the state's water, air, land or that pose a significant threat to human health, safety, welfare or the environment.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Wendoly Langlois, of Attorney General Martha Coakley's Criminal Bureau. Officers of the Massachusetts Environmental Police, investigators Tim Dame, Stephen Spencer and Richard Tomczyk from the MassDEP Environmental Strike Force Office in Boston and Lisa Touet and Jenna Kotuli from the MassDEP Laboratory Certification Program participated in the investigation.
Members of the public who have information regarding a potential environmental crime are encouraged to contact the MassDEP Environmental Strike Force Hotline at 1-888-VIOLATE (846-5283) or the Attorney General's Office at 617-727-2200.