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Senator gets jail time for dumping sewage

Wednesday, May 10, 2000

By Don Hopey, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

ERIE -- A stunned state Sen. William Slocum was sentenced to one month in jail, five months of home detention and fined $15,000 for allowing more than 3.5 million gallons of untreated sewage sludge to be dumped into Brokenstraw Creek, a popular Warren County fishing stream.

U.S. District Judge Sean J. McLaughlin handed down the sentence yesterday afternoon, saying Slocum "played environmental Russian roulette with the health of a stream and potentially the health of the people who lived beside it," while he was responsible for the operations of the Youngsville sewage treatment plant from 1983 to 1995.

McLaughlin also ordered the first-term Republican to serve seven months of probation.

Although the maximum sentence that could have been imposed was six years in prison and a fine of $600,000, the legislator seemed shocked by the jail sentence. After court adjourned, the 52-year-old Slocum staggered past the defense table and slumped on a bench where he was embraced by his wife, Connie.

Outside the federal courthouse in Erie, Slocum, still flushed and visibly shaken, declined comment as he climbed slowly into the back seat of a maroon Grand Cherokee with his wife.

Slocum's attorney, John Garhart, a former federal prosecutor, said he believed Slocum would serve his term in a halfway house but the decision was up to federal prison officials. He said he and his client haven't decided if they will appeal the sentence, which they must do in 10 days.

Asked if the jail term might cause Slocum, who is running for re-election, to reconsider, Garhart said, "That's a good question. I don't know."

Slocum, one of eight members of the General Assembly who has been investigated for, charged with or convicted of crimes in the past year, is seeking his second, four-year term. He was unopposed in this spring's Republican primary.

Steve MacNett, counsel for the Republican Caucus in the state Senate, attended the sentencing hearing and said afterward that Slocum could still run, despite the conviction and jail term.

Democrats in the state Senate had pressed for Slocum's resignation and censure earlier this year but were rebuffed by the Republican majority, which said it wanted to wait until after the sentencing to decide what action to take, if any.

"The sentence came as a surprise to him and I don't know what's in his mind or if he's made his mind up, but legally, it's not a problem," MacNett said. "What the practical considerations are I don't know."

Sen. David J. Brightbill, the chairman of the bipartisan Senate Ethics and Official Conduct Committee, scheduled a meeting regarding Slocum for Monday. Slocum will have the right to be heard at the session.

A spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Mellow, D-Lackawanna, called on Slocum to resign before then.

However, Democratic Sen. Vincent J. Fumo of Philadelphia said Slocum should decide for himself whether to resign. He instead called for stripping Slocum of his committee assignments and imposing the lesser punishment of censure.

Slocum represents the 25th District, which stretches across nine northern tier counties. He was indicted by a grand jury in July 1999 on seven criminal felony charges of knowingly discharging sewage into the creek and conspiring to file false treatment plant operation reports with the state Department of Environmental Protection while he was sewage plant manager and later borough manager in Youngsville.

The indictment and DEP inspection documents show repeated discharges of untreated sewage into Brokenstraw Creek during the time he was plant operator and borough manager. He was repeatedly told to stop the discharges, which produced a "sludge blanket" along the banks of the creek for hundreds of yards.

A grand jury indicted Slocum and John Martin, the sewage plant operator.

Martin, 39, of Irvine, Warren County, pleaded guilty to felony charges of conspiracy and filing false documents, and agreed to testify against Slocum. He is scheduled for sentencing in June.

Slocum avoided going to trial on those charges when he agreed to plead guilty to six criminal misdemeanor charges of negligent discharge in January.

Slocum, addressing the judge prior to sentencing, said he was "truly sorry for the circumstances," and understood his role in the illegal discharges.

"They did occur on my watch," he said. "There are a number of things I could of done and one was be a better supervisor."

He also told the judge, "My life is on the line here now, not only my professional, but my personal life."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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