Tuesday, November 27, 2001

The owner of a Silver Spring pest-control company that washed a toxic pesticide into Rock Creek last year killing thousands of fish pleaded guilty yesterday to federal environmental charges.
Martin Ira Rhode, 48, admitted in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt that a Pied Piper Pest Control employee flushed chemicals into a storm drain in May 2000, killing an estimated 150,000 fish along an eight-mile stretch of the creek in Maryland and Washington.
Mr. Rhode will be sentenced in January. He faces up to 12 months in prison for a misdemeanor violation of the Clean Water Act. As Pied Piper’s owner, he also pleaded guilty yesterday to a felony violation of the Clean Water Act and to other federal charges against the company, which could be fined up to $700,000.
Pied Piper employee Charles Lewis Thomas III was replacing a pump on a truck at the company’s Silver Spring driveway May 17, 2000, when the pesticide Prevail spilled onto the parking lot.
Witnesses said Mr. Thomas used a garden hose to spray the spill, which contained the chemical cypermethrin, into a storm drain that empties into nearby Rock Creek.
Cypermethrin, which is toxic to fish, was found in the creek in concentrations as high as 61 parts per billion, many times the level that is lethal for fish, according to court records.
The spill spread from just south of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center Annex to the Potomac River. The National Park Service banned wading and fishing in the creek for several days because of the pollution.
Mr. Rhode initially said his company wasn’t responsible for the pollution, but he told a Pied Piper employee on May 23 to stay quiet about the spill at the company lot.
Mr. Rhode did not comment after his hearing, but his attorney, Stanley J. Reed, said Mr. Rhode found out about the spill five days after it happened. He said Mr. Rhode wanted to consult with his attorneys before speaking to investigators.
“There was absolutely no cover-up,” Mr. Reed said.
Under the plea agreement, prosecutors asked Judge Deborah Chasanow to give Mr. Rhode roughly half of the sentence he faces and fine Pied Piper $100,000.
Mr. Thomas also faces misdemeanor charges for violating the Clean Water Act and the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act.
His case is pending, and his attorney, Robert Bonsib, would not comment on whether Mr. Thomas also would seek a plea agreement.

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