- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 16, 2014

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - The former president of Freedom Industries says U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin’s office should not prosecute criminal charges against him because its members were victims of the company’s chemical spill.

Gary Southern’s lawyers filed a motion Monday seeking the disqualification of Goodwin and his office’s agents and investigators, saying they have a conflict of interest.

Southern is accused of lying about his role with the company in bankruptcy court hearings and meetings to protect his personal wealth of nearly $8 million from lawsuits. A criminal complaint unsealed last week charged Southern with bankruptcy fraud, wire fraud and lying under oath.

Freedom filed for bankruptcy eight days after the Jan. 9 spill of coal-cleaning chemicals into the Elk River in Charleston.

Southern’s lawyers said each charge is related to the spill, which left 300,000 people without drinking water, closed businesses, restaurants and government offices, and raised health concerns.

“Nobody that worked in the United States Attorney’s Office was immune from those hardships and concerns. Not only were they unable to work for a period of time, they could not drink, cook, bathe, wash with, or otherwise come into contact with the contaminated water,” the motion stated.

“They smelled the licorice-like odor from the chemical and shared the same concerns about the immediate and long term effects of being exposed to the chemical not only for themselves but for their spouses and their children. Everyone exposed to the chemical was concerned.”

Goodwin told The Charleston Gazette (https://bit.ly/1xoPWmZ ) that he had no immediate comment on the motion’s substance but his office is prepared to respond “in due course.”

The motion also said the office’s staff is putative claimants in one or more class-action lawsuits filed over the spill, and could potentially benefit from any restitution ordered as a result of the criminal charges.

If convicted of all charges, Southern faces up to 30 years in prison.

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Information from: The Charleston Gazette, https://www.wvgazette.com


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