February 13, 2013

HazMat specialist pleads guilty to destroying documents

Prosecution claims Jon P. Andrews was a disgruntled employee

By Betty Adams badams@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — A former hazardous materials cleanup specialist for the state has pleaded guilty to destroying records of the final three years of cleanups he was involved in.

Jon P. Andrews, 58, of Augusta, destroyed his notes after he retired from the job and didn’t think it was wrong, according to his attorney, Walter McKee.

But the case prosecutor, Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin, said Andrews was disgruntled and the action on his final day on the job was “a parting shot at the department he had had a difficult relationship with.”

“This affects parcels that were the subject of spills, the owners, prospective owners, insurers, responsible parties,” she said. “The Department of Environmental Protection took this conduct really seriously. They’re essential to the department doing their business and a lot of staff time went into trying to reconstruct some of (the records of) the bigger spills.”

Andrews entered an Alford plea of guilty in Kennebec County Superior Court on Monday to a charge of tampering with public records.

Under the Alford plea, “it means he acknowledged that a jury could find him guilty, but not that they would,” McKee said.

The court complaint says Andrews destroyed or tampered with 265 reports “documenting oil or hazardous materials spills that he had responded to in his capacity as an oil and hazardous materials specialist for the Maine DEP in the years 2010, 2011 and 2012.”

Robbin said Andrews destroyed the records on March 6 in Augusta, the day he retired.

“He was the sole custodian of all the records, some handwritten notes, some emails, some reports from other sources,” she said, adding that those records had not been uploaded to an electronic recordkeeping system.

Andrews told a contract worker who was uploading data that “nobody will be able to find the records when I’m gone,” Robbin said.

Robbin said the contract worker at first thought Andrews was joking, but officials later saw that filing cabinets for recent cases were empty. Robbin said a coworker reported seeing Andrews putting files into a 55-gallon plastic bag normally used for hazardous waste cleanup, and the receptionist reported seeing him dragging it out of the office.

“We assume he put it in the trash,” Robbin said.

McKee said Andrews destroyed his notes when he retired and didn’t think there was anything wrong with that. McKee said Andrews was not a disgruntled state employee and there was nothing unusual about his retirement.

Andrews had worked for the state since 1989.

“When you leave your job, you clear out your desk,” McKee said. “There’s no policy or procedure that says you can’t do it.”

Andrews has challenged the state government previously.

In October 2011, Andrews lost an appeal to have his state job reclassified to a higher level. An arbitrator ruled against the Maine State Employees Association SEIU Local 1989, which had appealed on Andrews’ behalf.

In 1995, Andrews sued the state, charging that supervisors retaliated against him after he wrote a letter to the editor criticizing the use of state money for the cleanup of privately owned gas stations. The final disposition of that case could not be determined.

Under the Alford plea Andrews has entered, the records-tampering case gets continued for five months. If Andrews meets the terms of the deferred disposition — making a $3,500 donation within that period to the Maine Coastal & Inland Surface Oil Cleanup Fund — the charge will be dismissed.
“It’s a unique deferred disposition,” McKee said.

Betty Adams — 621-5631
badams@centralmaine.com

click image to enlarge

Jon Andrews, an oil and hazardous materials specialist with the Department of Environmental Protection, enters a residence off Drummond Road in Sidney.

Staff file photo by David Leaming

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