January 14, 2014 6:00 am -

FREEDOMIND_I140110225148Were there regular inspections? Or a state-mandated safety check regimen? Horrors! They’d get in the way of the free market because FREEDOM!!

The Charleston Gazette’s Ken Ward Jr. reports that Freedom Industries, the company that owns the leaking tanks, told state officials nearly a year ago that it was keeping thousands of pounds of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol in the company’s storage facility about a mile and a half up the Elk River from where West Virginia American Water draws supplies for thousands in the Charleston area. The chemical is used to wash coal after it is mined from the ground.

The disclosure was included in paperwork that Freedom Industries had filed under the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act, a 1986 law that is meant ensure that the public and first responders are adequately informed in the case of an accident, and that there is a plan to deal with it, such as alerts and evacuations.

The paper reports that state emergency response officials had a copy of the form, and so did the emergency planners and responders in Kanawha County. But the officials and first responders appeared to be caught entirely off guard by the accident.

Because, y’know, American businesses can always be trusted to do the right thing, so why worry? I mean, these people are the paragon of honesty and virtue:

Freedom Industries, the company responsible for contaminating the water of 300,000 Kanawha Valley residents, was founded by a two-time convicted felon, benefited from the 2009 federal stimulus and at least two of its executives have longstanding ties to the Charleston business community.

Since the chemical spill on Thursday, Freedom Industries executives have entirely avoided media requests, except for a brief news conference Friday night.

On Sunday morning, Charles Ryan Associates, a prominent Charleston public relations firm hired by Freedom, abruptly dropped the chemical distributor as a client.

“I made the decision not to represent them,” said Susan Lavenski, who was handling Freedom for Charles Ryan. She would not give any details as to why she would no longer represent the company.

Freedom Industries was founded in 1992 by Gary Southern and Carl Lemley Kennedy II, according to filings with the West Virginia secretary of state. The company’s website, however, says it was founded in 1986. …

Kennedy filed for bankruptcy in 2005 after he was charged with tax evasion and willful failure to pay employees’ withholdings to the government. He pleaded guilty to both charges in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of West Virginia.

He admitted that between 2000 and 2003, while he was the accountant for Freedom Industries, Poca Blending and New River Chemical Co., he withheld more than $1 million from employee paychecks that he never passed on to the federal government, according to court filings. He also owed more than $200,000 in state taxes.

“Carl L. Kennedy II took steps to conceal a large portion of his income from the Internal Revenue Service by, among other things, using his position as an accountant to ensure a W2 form was not filed in his name,” the court document reads, “using corporate funds for his personal benefit and writing corporate checks to cash for his personal enrichment.”

He was sentenced to more than three years in prison, but had his sentence cut almost in half after he cooperated with authorities by making controlled cocaine buys and wearing a wire in conversations with a former business associate.

It was not Kennedy’s first brush with the law.

In 1987 Kennedy pleaded guilty to selling between 10 and 12 ounces of cocaine in connection with a scandal that toppled then-Charleston Mayor Mike Roark.

D.B. Hirsch
D.B. Hirsch is a political activist, news junkie, and retired ad copy writer and spin doctor. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.