IMAGE: AERIAL OF PLANT WHERE POLLUTANTS FOUND
U.S. Attorney  /  AP
This undated aerial view of Lawrence Aviation Industries Inc., in Port Jefferson Station, N.Y., was provided by the U.S. Attorney's office.
updated 9/8/2006 4:19:44 PM ET 2006-09-08T20:19:44

A titanium manufacturer and its owner have been indicted for illegally storing more than 11 tons of corrosive hazardous waste at its Long Island plant, turning the site into a poisonous set out of a science fiction movie, a federal prosecutor said.

Gerald Cohen, the owner of Lawrence Aviation Industries Inc. in Port Jefferson Station, pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court before Magistrate Judge E. Thomas Boyle. Cohen, 72, was released on $11 million bond, more than the $7 million put up by mobster John A. "Junior" Gotti for his freedom.

A separate lawsuit filed under the federal Superfund statute seeks to recover $8 million in cleanup costs already incurred at the 125-acre site.

"It literally looked like a science fiction horror movie," Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Lesko said of the area where the waste was stored.

Soils, sediments, surface water and groundwater at and around LAI's facility are contaminated, federal officials said, and the groundwater is corrupted by a plume of trichloroethylene, a solvent used in manufacturing processes and characterized as a hazardous substance by the Environmental Protection Agency. The plume currently extends almost a mile from the plant toward Port Jefferson Harbor, they said.

Cohen's wife and a business associate posted the bond. His defense attorney, Anthony LaPinta, said after the court proceeding: "We will begin the search into these allegations and will conduct a thorough investigation, and hopefully Mr. Cohen will be vindicated."

A not guilty plea also was entered on behalf of the company. Cohen, who faces up to 15 years in prison and potential fines if convicted, was due back in court Sept. 22.

IMAGE: BARRELS OF POLLUTANTS
U.S. Attorney  /  AP
Some of the estimated 1,300 drums, containers and cylinders containing acids, gases and flammable solids that were found on the property of Lawrence Aviation Industries Inc.
The indictment charges that for several years before 2003, Lawrence Aviation violated federal environmental laws by improperly storing liquids and sludge in two manufacturing tanks.

Prosecutors said the tanks' contents were stored without permits from state or federal environmental protection agencies and were not removed in a timely fashion.

The indictment also charges Lawrence Aviation and Cohen with operating two diesel generators without permits. The generators were capable of emitting 444 tons of nitrogen oxide annually, well over the 25 tons per year allowed by statute in Suffolk County.

Opened in 1959, the plant manufactures titanium sheets used primarily for the aeronautics industry. Cohen has been the sole owner of Lawrence Aviation since 1982, prosecutors said.

About 1,300 drums, containers and cylinders containing acids, gases and flammable solids were removed from the site by the EPA before the company ceased operation in 2004. The EPA, which filed the cleanup lawsuit, added the Lawrence Aviation site to its National Priorities List of the most contaminated sites in the country in March 2000.

"We are committed to making sure that polluters pay to clean up the messes they have made," EPA Regional Administrator Alan Steinberg said in a statement.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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