Lab owner’s attorneys say client is being punished for activism

WATER VALLEY — Federal prosecutors want a judge to prohibit defense lawyers from saying a laboratory owner’s past environmental activism is the reason behind her prosecution on charges of faking wastewater samples.

Tennie White, owner of Mississippi Environmental Analytical Laboratories Inc., was indicted Nov. 7 on charges of making false statements and obstruction related to tests that a company hired her to do.

A court filing last Friday seeks to block the defense from telling jurors that White was singled out for past criticism of the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Her trial is scheduled for April 8.

Prosecutors say Borg Warner Emissions Systems Inc. hired White to test wastewater discharge at its car parts plant in Water Valley. The indictment says White created three reports in 2009 that indicated testing had been done, when it had not.

The tests were used for reports that were submitted to the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality. The indictment does not accuse the company of wrongdoing.

White has pleaded not guilty.

Abby Brumley, White’s lead attorney, was out of the office yesterday and not immediately available for comment.

The government’s filing says White was a technical representative for the Coalition of Communities for Environmental Justice when she attended a meeting in Hattiesburg in 2011 hosted by the Mobile Bouie Street Neighborhood Association and North Main Street Historic Association.

A posting attributed to White on the coalition’s website says she was prevented from broadcasting the meeting in which MDEQ, EPA and others were participating. The posting says that may have violated open meetings laws.

The government says the coalition website also has a link to the indictment under the heading, “The Players: The US Government, Borg Warner, MDEQ and Tennie White.”

“The Government is concerned that defendant White may seek to suggest that she has been singled out for prosecution to retaliate for her environmental activism, or that others conspired against her, for the purpose of putting her in jail, or to otherwise inhibit her advocating for her cause,” according to the filing, signed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Gaines H. Cleveland.

White faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each count of making false statements and up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the obstruction charge.

In a motion to dismiss the case on March 14, White’s lawyer says the documents referred to in the indictment are not criminal because they were not signed and not submitted to a government agency.

 

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