Crestwood Water A Federal Crime?

Village raided, but prosecutions rare

By Steve Rhodes
|  Wednesday, May 6, 2009  |  Updated 9:45 AM CDT
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Feds Probe Crestwood Water

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Will the offending water please take the stand.

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EPA Investigates Possible Cause of Disease in Crestwood Water

April 22: EPA finds Crestwood drinking water sits on Lake Michigan and was supplied by contaminated water from backup well years ago.

Feds Probe Crestwood Water

First came the angry call from residents, and now a full-blown investigation is underway in one southwest suburb.
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When federal agents raid a town's City Hall and cart away boxes of documents, as officials did in Crestwood last week, a criminal prosecution is almost sure to follow.

But the SouthtownStar reports today that criminal prosecutions are actually rare when it comes to cases of contaminated water.

"There are precious few criminal cases brought under the Safe Drinking Water Act," one expert told the paper.

That's because of the high burden of proving officials acted willfully.

Of course, the Illinois EPA had already cited Crestwood for various violations before the raid, but meeting the standard of a criminal prosecution is more difficult.

And when a federal prosecution is successful, the penalties aren't always that severe.

"Federal judges aren't inclined to impose the maximum sentence in a situation where there hasn't been a showing anyone was actually harmed," John Battaglia, a former federal prosecutor, told the SouthtownStar.

Harm hasn't been determined in Crestwood.

But Sen. Dick Durbin issued a call this week for a federal study of whether anyone got sick from drinking Crestwood water.

"Durbin, the Senate's assistant majority leader, sent a letter this week to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry that nudges federal and state health officials to at least attempt to answer those difficult questions," the Tribune reports.

And the EPA continues to sift through Crestwood documents. "We're looking for evidence of any environmental crimes we can find,"  Randall Ashe, the special agent in charge of the EPA's Midwest criminal office, told the Tribune.

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