Former Manger of Milford Water Company Found Guilty, Sentenced for Tampering with Drinking Water Samples
Defendant Tampered With Water Samples to Get Boil-Water Order Lifted
WORCESTER – The former manager of the Milford Water Company (MWC) has been found guilty and sentenced for tampering with drinking water samples during a boil-water order and for making false statement about the samples, Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Office announced today.
After a four-day jury-waived trial, Henry Papuga, age 62, of Milford, was found guilty yesterday by Superior Court Judge David Ricciardone on the charges of Tampering with Environmental Monitoring Device or Method (6 counts) and Making False Statements (2 counts). At a sentencing hearing today, Papuga took responsibility for his actions and apologized to the community. Judge Ricciardone sentenced Papuga to one year in the House of Correction, suspended for a five-year probationary period, during which Papuga is prohibited from having any involvement in the drinking water industry in any way and must complete 250 hours of community service.
“This defendant violated the trust placed in him by Milford residents when he tampered with water samples and put thousands of resident’s health at risk,” said AG Coakley. “We are pleased that he has now accepted responsibility for his actions and is being held accountable.”
“We depend on the integrity of water system operators to ensure that water quality sampling results are accurate and timely to protect public health,” said Commissioner Kenneth Kimmell of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP). “We take with utmost seriousness our obligation and mandate to ensure that drinking water delivered to the public is safe.”
“Citizens deserve safe drinking water and expect those officials designated to protect and provide it to be trustworthy,” said John Gauthier, Acting Special Agent in Charge, EPA Criminal Investigation Division. “This result enforces EPA's belief that there is zero tolerance of acts that may jeopardize the safety of public water supplies.”
The Milford Water Company is a privately owned community public water system in the Town of Milford that serves approximately 27,000 persons.
In January 2010, the AG’s Office began an investigation after the matter was initially investigated and referred by MassDEP. The indictments stem from an incident in August 2009, when the water supply in the Town of Milford tested positive for E. Coli bacteria. A subsequent order by MassDEP required residents to boil the water before consuming or using it. According to MassDEP’s requirements, the boil-water order could not be lifted until the MWC’s testing showed two consecutive rounds of water samples that were free from bacterial contamination. Investigators found that Papuga, who was the manager in charge of the water system, was under enormous pressure to get the boil-water order lifted as soon as possible. In his effort to get the boil-water order lifted, Papuga tampered with six drinking water samples by adding a form of chlorine to the samples.
Papuga submitted these tampered samples to a local lab for testing. On two of the forms submitted with the water samples, also known as “chain of custody” forms, Papuga falsely certified the integrity of the samples.
An analyst at the lab began testing the samples for bacteria and the samples immediately turned a range of unexpected colors, making it impossible to complete the test. To determine what was in the samples producing this highly unusual result, the lab tested for chlorine. The lab found that the chlorine level was so high that it exceeded the limits of the test. The lab then informed MassDEP that the samples could not be properly analyzed for bacteria because of their unusually high chlorine content. MassDEP and the Environmental Strike Force conducted their own investigation, tested the suspicious water samples, and found levels of chlorine in some samples 700 times the acceptable level for drinking water. As a result, the matter was referred to the AG’s Office for prosecution.
MassDEP has been deeply involved with drinking water operations in Milford since the 2009 event. The follow up enforcement required the construction of a new treatment plant, which is about to go on line. MassDEP has also conducted bi-monthly inspections of the existing facility to ensure that operations meet state requirements. MassDEP vowed to continue these inspections until the new plant was operational.
These charges stem from an investigation by the Massachusetts Environmental Strike Force, an interagency unit which is overseen by AG Coakley, Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Rick Sullivan, and MassDEP Commissioner Kimmell. The Strike Force comprises prosecutors from the Attorney General’s Office, Environmental Police Officers assigned to the Attorney General’s Office, and investigators and engineers from the MassDEP who investigate and prosecute crimes that harm or threaten the state’s water, air, or land and that pose a significant threat to human health.
A Worcester County Grand Jury returned indictments against Papuga in September 2011 and he was arraigned in Worcester Superior Court in October 2011. He was found guilty at the end of a jury-waved trial on May 16, 2013 and was sentenced today.
This case was prosecuted by Assistant Attorney Generals Daniel Licata and Sara Farnum, both of AG Coakley’s Environmental Crimes Division. It was investigated by officers of the Massachusetts Environmental Police, the Criminal Division of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, along with MassDEP investigators and staff from the Central Regional Office in Worcester, the Wall Experiment Station lab in Lawrence, and the Environmental Strike Force.