Columbus County hog farmer convicted of polluting stream to return to court

ablythe@newsobserver.comMarch 14, 2013 

A Columbus County hog farmer convicted of intentionally discharging hog waste into a Waccamaw River tributary is scheduled to appear before a federal judge Friday for failing to comply with his year-old plea agreement.

Federal prosecutors contend that William Barry Freedman, who operated the 4,800-hog farm that was the polluter, has shifted ownership of several of his properties with the “actual intent to hinder, delay or defraud the federal government.”

In documents filed in federal court last week, prosecutors accuse Freedman of transferring more than $1 million in property to his wife and parents since negotiating his plea deal last year with the government.

Randolph M. James, a Winston-Salem attorney who began representing Freedman this month, disputes that characterization.

Freedman, according to James, plans to pay $200,000 at his court hearing Friday in New Bern. The farmer hopes to persuade a judge that he is not responsible for interest accrued by not paying the sum in January, when it was due.

Freedman is set to be turned over to the custody of U.S. Marshals on Friday to begin a six-month prison sentence that was handed down more than a year ago.

The underpinnings of the government’s allegations date back to December 2007.

Federal prosecutors said Freedman Farms intentionally discharged more than 324,000 gallons of “hot” untreated hog waste into a stream near Browder’s Branch, which flows through the Lake Waccamaw watershed and into the river.

The Waccamaw River, a slow-moving waterway that meanders for 140 miles through the coastal plains in southeastern North Carolina and eastern South Carolina, empties into the Atlantic Ocean near the historic port of Georgetown, S.C.

It is a “blackwater river,” a dark, tea-colored, tannin-soaked channel that teems with extraordinary flora and fauna because of the limestone bluffs that act as a natural antacid to the otherwise acidic waters.

Though it once served as a lifeline for a region that built its commerce on rice fields, turpentine and logging industries, the river is now a haven for water sports and recreational fishing. The watershed is home to the threatened Carolina pygmy sunfish, a threatened species, and the American black bear. It also is a drinking-water supply and source of power-plant cooling water.

‘Negligent violation’

Freedman and Freedman Farms, the corporation, were in the middle of a trial last year when the plea agreement was negotiated with prosecutors.

Freedman, the farm’s owner, was sentenced to six months in federal prison and six months of home confinement after pleading guilty to “negligent violation” of the Clean Water Act. Freedman Farms also is required to implement environmental compliance and annual training programs.

The farm was ordered to pay a $500,000 fine – $75,000 of which went to the Southern Environmental Enforcement Network, which was to use the money for training investigators in the district on environmental crimes.

The corporation also was ordered to pay $1 million in five installments to Carolina Coastal Land Trust to mitigate the damage caused by the crime.

James, Freedman’s attorney, said the farm owner had difficulty making the first payment because grain prices were down.

Transfer of properties

Prosecutors argued in court documents that Freedman had assets available. On Sept. 10, prosecutors contend, Freedman transferred $331,000 in property that he purchased in August 2012, after his sentencing, to a deed that included his wife, Lisa Freedman.

In October, prosecutors further contend, Freedman transferred property purchased in 2003 for almost $600,000, to his parents.

On Oct. 18, prosecutors argue, Freedman signed a deed on behalf of Rhett Enterprises, of which he has sole ownership, that transferred property valued at $109,400 to his parents.

The Freedmans, prosecutors contend in a document filed last week in the case, “have consistently taken steps to ‘hinder, delay or defraud’ the United States’ attempts to both collect the debt and to discover their true and complete financial situation.”

Blythe: 919-836-4948

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service