Former Carville owner pleads guilty to storing hazardous waste

Faces up to five years prison, $50,000 per day of violation

The abandoned, former Carville Nationa Leather Corp. building on Knox Avenue in Johnstown is pictured in 2017. (The Leader-Herald/Michael Anich)

JOHNSTOWN — The former owner of a city tannery pleaded guilty Monday in U.S. Northern District Court in Albany to felony storage of hazardous waste, and faces up to five years in federal prison.

Former Carville National Leather Corp. owner Robert J. Carville, 56, of West Palm Beach, Fla., was found guilty of storing hundreds of drums of hazardous material in the abandoned Carville building at 10 Knox Ave. without a permit.

Carville was arrested April 10 on a federal indictment, originally pleading not guilty. He told The Leader-Herald then he will have no public comment on his criminal case.

The announcement of Carville’s plea was made Monday by U.S. Attorney Grant C. Jaquith and Tyler Amon, special agent in charge of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Criminal Investigation Division in New York. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael F. Perry.

Carville will be sentenced May 20, 2019 by Senior U.S. District Judge Frederick J. Scullin Jr. He faces up to five years in prison and a maximum fine of up to $50,000 per day of violation.

Carville National Leather Corporation was a family-owned tannery business that operated in Johnstown from 1976 until it closed for financial reasons in August 2013.

Robert Carville owned and operated Carville National Leather for approximately 10 years leading up to its closing.

In pleading guilty, he admitted he was responsible for materials inside the tannery when it closed. Carville ultimately moved to Florida, and left behind in the tannery building hundreds of containers of hazardous chemicals, including some that had labels on them such as “corrosive,” “acidic,” and “hazardous.”

Carville admitted in court that he did not have a permit to store hazardous materials at the tannery or anywhere else. Prosecutors said Carville also admitted he stored these chemicals illegally for more than two years. Prosecutors said Carville’s actions were in violation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

The Carville building on the city’s west side is the former Knox Gelatine Factory, a major employer through much of the 20th Century. Carville National Leather Corp. also had a storied history in the city.

Founded by Robert Carville’s father, Hugh Carville, in 1967, the company had about a dozen employees at the time it closed. At its height in the early 1980s, the company had about 150 employees. The company started in New Jersey, but moved to Johnstown in 1976.

When it was in business, Carville’s product line ranged from technical leathers to economical commodity leathers. The company also reconditioned — doing finish removal and recoloring — virtually any type of leather. Leathers produced by Carville were typically used in the footwear, automobile and aircraft interior, garment, handbag, upholstery and small leather-goods industries.

The company lost much business when the national economy soured with the major recession of the late 2000s, Robert Carville said at the time of closure. The Carville building also caught fire three times from 2009 to the time it closed. The company eventually filed for bankruptcy.

The EPA in February 2017 completed cleanup of the former plant, including a spill of a non-hazardous red dye, according to City Engineer Christopher Vose.

Vose informed the Johnstown Common Council in July 2016 that the EPA was going to clean up numerous barrels of chemical contaminants at the abandoned Carville Leather site. Several 35-gallon drums of chemicals — left behind by the owners — were also tipped over by vandals.

Over 400 drums and other containers were left in the building when the company closed in 2013.

Federal officials said that from July to September 2016, the EPA conducted an initial cleanup, removing more than 4,000 gallons of hazardous chemicals, contaminated water and other industrial waste. The EPA also addressed an old spill of approximately 20 feet by 100 feet of a red dye from the main building at the site. The EPA found 22 drums of mostly dye pigment spilled inside the main building. Most of this material was puddled on the first floor of the building, although red dye migrated from the building into the exterior parking lot.

Vose told the council by January 2017 that there was some residue of the red dye on the loading dock floor. He said rains washed it into the outside snow, but the chemical was non-hazardous and there was no more public concern.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at manich@leaderherald.com.

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