President of an Oil Tank Removal and Installation Company Pleads Guilty to Misrepresenting Environmental Contamination as Part of Scheme to Overcharge Clients for Unnecessary Remediation Work
Kevin Hoag, age 43, of Reading, pled guilty late last week to attempted larceny over $250 by false pretense (2 counts). Middlesex Superior Court Judge Bruce Henry sentenced Hoag to three years of probation, with detailed conditions governing the future operation of his company, Commonwealth Tank Incorporated, of Wakefield; 360 hours of community service; and the payment of $60,000 in restitution.
"The defendants misrepresented the extent of environmental work required by law as a way to justify extensive work and unnecessarily overcharge clients," AG Coakley said. "With this plea, the defendants have taken responsibility for their actions and will pay restitution to the victims in this case."
"Our environmental cleanup regulations should not be used by companies like Commonwealth Tank to force unsuspecting homeowners to perform work that is, in many cases, unnecessary and costly," said MassDEP Commissioner Laurie Burt. "Through this settlement, a neutral third party will review the numerous consumer complaints against the company and determine if a fair cost was charged for the work performed."
The charges of attempted larceny against Hoag, President of Commonwealth Tank, stem from an investigation that found the company provided victims with preliminary cost estimates and then completed additional unnecessary work that was misrepresented to clients as necessary, which resulted in final costs that were thousands of dollars over the initial estimates.
The company, Commonwealth Tank, Inc., was also charged with knowingly deceiving clients and misrepresenting compliance with environmental laws in order to justify excessive work and expenses in November 2009 as part of this investigation. Under an agreement entered in Middlesex Superior Court today, Commonwealth Tank was put on pretrial probation and will be held to the same conditions as Hoag. These conditions include a requirement that the company not be able to charge for work that is performed unless the customer has first signed a written estimate covering the work, will not conduct soil excavation without first receiving the results of soil testing by trained employees, and will advise customers of the need to retain a licensed site professional when more complex environmental conditions are discovered. The company has also agreed to submit certain disputed customer claims to resolution through an agreed-upon mediation process. These and numerous other probation conditions will hold the company to a high standard going forward.
According to authorities, Hoag, representing Commonwealth Tank, took on a series of jobs and knowingly deceived clients about the situation of their properties and misrepresented that the work was required by environmental laws in order to justify excessive work and expenses. In most cases, the victims grew suspicious of the excessive work and hired licensed site professionals (LSP) and other environmental consultants to review the sites. Further investigation showed that in certain cases unnecessary and excessive work was being justified under false pretenses that the work was environmentally and lawfully necessary.
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 Attorneys General Wendoly Ortiz Langlois and Andrew Rainer, with assistance from Jeanne Argento of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and Massachusetts State Police assigned to the Attorney General's Office.
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.