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Published: Tuesday, October 15, 2019 @ 4:00 PM
DAYTON — Ohio’s attorney general said a jury’s decision to clear Dayton-area contractor Steve Rauch of all criminal charges against him while convicting his business in an illegal dumping case is “a just solution.”
A Montgomery County Common Pleas Court jury deliberated about four hours total on Friday and Tuesday before convicting SRI Inc. of a felony and a misdemeanor in the illegal 2016 dumping case involving the Dayton business, city of West Carrollton-owned land and a Miamisburg demolition site.
The jury of seven women and five men found SRI Inc. guilty of illegal open dumping of solid waste, and violating demolition and debris rules in a state Environmental Protection Agency case filed by the state’s attorney general.
It failed to convict Rauch, 64, of Germantown, of two counts of illegal open dumping of solid waste, and one count of operating a solid waste facility without a license. It also found Rauch Trucking Inc. not guilty of illegal open dumping of solid waste.
Rauch’s attorneys did not present any witnesses during trial and told the jury Friday the state failed to meet its burden of proof.
But Rauch’s lawyers declined to comment after the verdicts, as did West Carrollton officials.
In a released statement Tuesday, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said, “The jury found illegal dumping – they just blamed Steve Rauch’s company instead of Steve Rauch.”
“The system worked, and the jury found a just solution,” the statement added.
SRI Inc. faces a fine of at least $10,000 but not more than $25,000 for the illegal dumping conviction, according to the AG’s office. The maximum penalty for the 2nd-degree misdemeanor demolition and debris rule violation is a fine of up to $750.
Sentencing is set for Nov. 12, Judge Timothy O’Connell said.
Rauch and his businesses do private work and have received millions of dollars in local and federal contracts, including work at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the city of Dayton and Kettering Health Network.
Convicting Steve Rauch’s company while not finding him at fault is “not necessarily inconsistent” in this case, said Tom Hagel, professor emeritus at the University of Dayton Law School.
The jury could have found the acts “were committed by an employee - and not with (Rauch) personally,” Hagel said. The defense had pointed to rogue Rauch employees several times during the trial.
A Kettering Health Network project in Miamisburg was mentioned significantly in testimony during the trial. Many of the charges stemmed from activities in 2016 at West Carrollton-owned land on Hydraulic Road, a KHN demolition site near the Dayton Mall, and SRI Inc., 1550 Soldiers Home-West Carrollton Road.
Prosecutors argued Steve Rauch directed the illegal dumping of more than 100 mattresses in West Carrollton and solid waste disposal to occur as part of a way to “cut corners” and save money by avoiding paying fees to properly dispose of items in a method they called “The Steve Rauch Way.”
Rauch Operations Manager Jennifer Copeland, who has also been charged in the case, testified for the state in a deal with prosecutors.
Copeland said Rauch told her in a Jan. 29, 2016, phone call that mattresses from a Miamisburg Wyndham Hotel demolition site owned by KHN were being taken to be dumped at West Carrollton’s Hydraulic Road property. Mattresses are not permitted to be buried at that location, which handles only “clean hard fill,” such as concrete and brick.
“I spoke with Steve and he told me that they were going to take the mattresses over to Hydraulic Road,” said Copeland.
“I told him I didn’t think that was a good idea,” she testified. “They’re not supposed to be there.”
O’Connell told the jury on Friday its members could “consider the credibility of the witnesses,” choosing to believe or not believe any of them.
Defense attorney Ralph Kohnen told the jury Rauch was told by West Carrollton Chief Code Enforcement Officer Carl Enterman that materials classified as construction and demolition debris - such as mattresses - were permitted to be dumped at the Hydraulic Road site.
But Enterman testified that was not the case.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “That’s not what I am charged to do. I cite other people for this. Why would have told Steve Rauch to dump debris” illegally?
Health officials said more than 30 tons of materials were unearthed at the Hydraulic Road site before it was closed in early 2016.
Steve Rauch did not testify in his defense. However, he said in an exclusive interview earlier this month with the Dayton Daily News that the illegal dumping allegations stem from a combination of misunderstandings and simple mistakes that the city of West Carrollton seized on to pressure him to clean up environmental damage for which he wasn’t responsible.
Rauch said in that interview drivers of a couple of trucks — which carry more than 15 tons each — accidentally dumped material at the city site instead of his landfill, where it would have been separated and disposed of properly.