As you Read This, Keep in Mind what the State of Montana Defines as a Victim (much more on this later, it seems Montana Law defines victim differently then the Federal Law, wel will be discussing that in great detail at a later date). So there is not a Victim if there is no crime... the crime has to first be determined by the Local and State Judicial System, the Courts, that it "really happened" and once there is a crime then and only then is there a victim.
Grace Poisoning Prosecution May Disrupt Bankruptcy
By Bob Van Voris and Steven Church
Feb. 19 (Bloomberg) -- W.R. Grace & Co., the bankrupt chemical and construction-materials maker, faces a criminal trial for allegedly contaminating a Montana town in a case that may disrupt a reorganization plan that’s taken eight years to craft.
The 155-year-old company and six of its former executives are charged in connection with the asbestos contamination of Libby, a town with a population of about 2,500 where Grace mined and processed asbestos-tainted vermiculite until 1990. About 1,200 people in and around the town died or were sickened, the U.S. Department of Justice alleged.
If convicted by a jury to be selected beginning today in a Missoula federal courtroom, Grace may be fined $280 million or more, the company said in a securities filing. Such a fine may threaten its proposed $2.4 billion trust for people injured by asbestos, a fund at the heart of Grace’s reorganization plan.
“A large enough fine would upset any Chapter 11 plan because it is going to mean dollars out the door,” said bankruptcy attorney Evan Flaschen, with Bracewell & Giuliani LLP, who isn’t involved in the case.
Greg Euston, a spokesman for Columbia, Maryland-based W.R. Grace, declined to comment on the bankruptcy case or the criminal prosecution, citing an order by the trial judge limiting what the parties can say publicly.
Grace is charged with conspiracy, violating the U.S. Clean Air Act and obstruction of justice. The six men face between five and 15 years in prison if convicted on the counts they each face. Grace and the former executives have all pleaded not guilty.
Grace said in a Nov. 7 U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing that it spent $108.3 million through September defending the case. The company said it may be forced to pay a $280 million fine if convicted, according to SEC filings.
Grace sought court protection in 2001 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Delaware, in response to more than 100,000 asbestos claims. Since then, the company has fought with asbestos lawyers and creditors over how best to set up the trust to compensate people damaged by the company’s products. Last year, it settled on the outlines of the trust.
Grace told the SEC it may need to borrow as much as $1.5 billion to help fund the $2.4 billion asbestos trust and to pay other creditors owed more than $1.5 billion.
The company’s reorganization plan would need to be rewritten should a large criminal fine be levied, since the proposal does not currently provide any money to pay such a penalty, according to bankruptcy court records.
Shareholders would be disappointed should a large fine delay Grace’s plan to exit bankruptcy later this year, an analyst said.
“They don’t want to operate in bankruptcy any longer than they have to,” said Dan Natoli, a senior analyst with Matrix USA LLC. Natoli recommends selling Grace shares and doesn’t hold any.
Prosecutors claim 1,200 people were injured or killed in the Libby area. The government alleged that many workers and residents of the town are dead or dying from asbestos-related diseases, including asbestosis, a scarring of the lungs, and mesothelioma, a fatal cancer.
A grand jury in 2005 indicted Grace and seven current and former executives for allegedly conspiring to release asbestos- filled vermiculite in Libby and then covering up the dangers.
Grace mined and processed vermiculite, a mineral used in fireproofing, insulation and potting soil, outside Libby from 1963 to 1990, the company says on its Web site.
Prosecutors said workers brought asbestos into their homes on their clothing. Other people were exposed to asbestos when they used vermiculite for gardens or as paving material on their driveways, they claim.
At a hearing last month, a toxicologist for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency testified that children swung on a rope and dropped into piles of asbestos-filled vermiculite at the Grace mine’s export plant. They ran on the material at the high school track and played on it in ball fields.
The individual defendants are William McCaig, former manager of operations at the Libby mine; Robert Walsh and Robert Bettacchi, former presidents of Grace’s construction products division; Jack Wolter, ex-general manager of the construction products division; and Henry Eschenbach, a former director of health and safety.
Grace is paying their defense costs, the company said in a regulatory filing. Former Grace legal counsel Mario Favorito will be tried separately beginning in September 2009. A seventh man charged in the case, Alan Stringer, a former general manager of operations in Libby, died in 2007.
No Comparable Prosecution
“There’s no environmental prosecution that is comparable to the Grace case in its scale and complexity,” said David Uhlmann, formerly the Justice Department’s top environmental crimes prosecutor and now a professor at the University of Michigan Law School. As chief of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section, he led the team that investigated and sought the indictment of Grace.
“It is unquestionably the most significant criminal prosecution” the U.S. has filed against an alleged corporate polluter, Uhlmann said.
U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy, who is overseeing the case, has said the trial may take as long as four months.
Missoula is a 3 1/2-hour drive from Libby, which is on the Kootenai River in the northwest corner of the state.
Uhlmann said the length of the alleged conspiracy, the large number of people killed and sickened and the fact that senior Grace officials were charged, including several who worked in the company’s Maryland headquarters, makes the case unique.
Two Year Delay
The case comes to trial after a delay of more than two years while prosecutors appealed a series of unfavorable pretrial rulings to the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
In September 2007, that court, which has jurisdiction over Montana federal district courts, reinstated a key conspiracy claim against the defendants, reversing a ruling by Molloy. Grace shares dropped 5.5 percent in response.
Grace rose 14 cents to $6.94 at 9:37 a.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading
Molloy entered a series of orders designed to avoid local anger over Libby from affecting the trial. For example, prosecutors may not refer to “victims” in their opening statement.
The judge also declined to characterize 34 government witnesses who claim asbestos exposure as victims for purposes of the Crime Victims’ Rights Act. The decision means those witnesses won’t be allowed in court during other victims’ testimony.
“If you’re a victim of a rape or a robbery and you survive it, you get to have your day in court and face your offenders,” said Gayla Benefield, an advocate for asbestos victims who has lived in Libby all her life. “A lot of Libby residents won’t get that chance.”
Benefield, a miner’s daughter whose parents both died of asbestosis, has also been diagnosed with the disease.
The case is U.S. v. Grace, 05-CR-00007, U.S. District Court for the District of Montana (Missoula).
To contact the reporters on this story: Bob Van Voris in U.S. District Court in Missoula, Montana, at firstname.lastname@example.org and; Steven Church in Wilmington, Delaware, at email@example.com. Last Updated: February 19, 2009 09:46 EST
More on W.R. Grace in the News
In case you need to Know: the "Victims" as they are NOT allowed to be called in Montana, they are suffering Endless Pain, dying a slow and painful death in their homes or in hospitals and WR Grace has no mercy. The Montana Court systems, in my opinion, is not on the right side of this, but hey who am I, I don't KNOW the Law Right? And all I can see is the Suffering of those living in and having lived and worked in Libby Montana. "Victims Rights" another infamous Oxymoron that Montana is famous for.
In my opinion, Montana got the Libby Montana Residents into this, and yet they let folks suffer needlessly with no end in site. I heard awhile back that due to Real Estate Boom Montana had Millions upon Millions of surplus Money from Capital Gains Taxes. I mean there has to have been a way to help these folks... Priorities Does not Seem to Be those Suffering in Libby Montana. Seriously, a Death Sentence to Libby is Disgrace on everyone in Montana that has the power to make a difference and NO end in Site.
Watch all this closely folks, because from my vantage point, I believe that the person with the most money has the most influence over the courts ( i am in no way suggesting bribary) I am simply saying that the court system, as your local montana newspaper, seems to want to "Please" the Big Names and the Big Money Players and hey if your dying and suffering intensly along the way, that's just "Collateral Damage".
Your simply not as important in the big picture.
"Alleged Victims" Not allowed in to the Courts... hmmmmm
Montana Victim Definition Resource (much more coming soon)