Mark DePonte pled guilty on Dec. 16 to shutting off the water supply at a fed. disease research center the day before he went on strike. He entered his plea in the U.S. Dist. Ct. for East. NY.
DePonte was responsible for maintaining the underground wells supplying water to the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, a research facility controlled by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture in Suffolk County, NY. On Aug. 13, the day before Local 30 of the Intl. Union of Operating Engineers began a still-ongoing strike, DePonte closed all the valves through which water was pumped into the plant.
Until water supply was restored several hours later, Govt. officials feared that without the water used for drinking, fire fighting and the steam used for decontamination, the infectious diseases studied there might escape the island. DePonte, however, tried to blame replacement workers in an email to Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, warning that a “catastrophe” might result if what he claimed were untrained workers operated the plant. He also told his hometown newspaper, the Old Saybrook Pictorial Gazette, “I knew when I left everything was fine…I can’t help it if the new workers don’t know which switches to turn on.”
In pleading guilty to violating 18 U.S.C., Sec. 1361 and 3551, DePonte persisted in claiming that “management wouldn’t know how to operate the system without a licensed operator.” Under the terms of the plea agreement, he will be sentenced to up to six mos. in prison. He also agreed to resign from the center, and could see his license to operate treatment facilities revoked by state officials. [U.S.A.O. E.D. NY, Newsday 12/17/02]