An Indiana recycling business executive was sentenced to three years in federal prison for a scheme involving the illegal trashing and reselling of millions of dollars’ worth of potentially toxic electronic waste.
Schererville native Brian Brundage, 47, admitted deceiving customers into thinking they were getting rid of their electronic waste in an environmentally responsible manner. Instead, Brundage defrauded his customers by taking the hazardous trash and reselling it and illegally dumping it into landfills in the U.S. and China.
He was arrested in December 2016 and charged in an 11-count indictment detailing his deception. Last September, he pleaded guilty to one count each of wire fraud and tax evasion. A judge in the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Illinois sentenced him April 12 to three years in federal prison followed by three years of supervised release and ordered him to pay $1.28 million in restitution.
Brundage was CEO and co-owner of Illinois-based Intercon Solutions Inc. and is currently the owner of Gary, Indiana-based EnviroGreen Processing LLC. The two companies claimed to legally disassemble, recycle and destroy electronic waste for private businesses and government entities.
Customers contracted Brundage’s companies to get rid of their electronic waste with the stipulation that all materials would be handled in an environmentally sound manner. Brundage’s companies promised to not resell, remarket, landfill, burn or export the waste and other materials it received from customers.
Indiana Department of Environmental Management documents identified Intercon Solutions as having R2 certification, which means the company applied for and received accreditation for the Responsible Recycling standard set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state environmental agencies. Companies with that certification are required to wipe personal data from electronics and ensure that electronic waste is recycled or disposed of with minimal environmental impact.
The certification is a selling point meant to set companies apart from each other. The state of Indiana does not require e-waste recycling businesses to receive R2 or other types of industry certifications but does require e-waste facility owners and operators to abide by regulations on registration, storage and disposal.
Despite those regulations, Brundage illegally recycled, destroyed and sold hazardous components acquired from companies in Illinois and Indiana, and caused others to break the law because of his misrepresentations.
Federal prosecutors from the Northern District of Illinois say several unnamed companies and governmental entities in Illinois and Indiana entered into contracts with Intercon and EnviroGreen under the pretense that Brundage’s companies would get rid of the materials safely and responsibly.
Brundage’s employees would pick up materials like cathode ray tube monitors, glass, batteries and fluorescent bulbs from those customers.
CRT monitors can contain several pounds of lead; batteries are made from different toxic materials like acid, lead, nickel, lithium, mercury and other metals; and even fluorescent bulbs contain small amounts of mercury.
“Improper management of cathode ray tubes can pose risk to human health and the environment, as they contain significant quantities of lead,” said Jennifer Lynn, special agent in charge of the U.S. EPA’s criminal investigation division, in a statement.
Under federal law, CRT products marked for disposal are considered hazardous waste and have special restrictions for their export, storage, handling and disposal. Batteries face similar disposal restrictions, depending on the state. Indiana law has certain restrictions for the disposal of batteries that, if violated, could result in a Class C infraction with up to a $500 fine.
Brundage disregarded those laws and simply smashed the hazardous materials and tossed them into landfills.
He sold the goods he did not order destroyed. Brundage admitted that, beginning in March 2011, he sold tons of CRT monitor materials, batteries and other potentially hazardous materials to an unnamed person who shipped them to Hong Kong in a shipping container.
The Hong Kong Environmental Protection Department discovered the shipment and sent it back to the U.S. Federal prosecutors say the HKEP then publicly accused Intercon Solutions of being involved with the illegal shipment.
Brundage then destroyed business records related to the shipment, and continued his schemes for another five years.
The Basel Action Network, an environmental watchdog group, denied Intercon Solutions its e-Stewards certification, accusing it of the hazardous materials export its CEO would later admit to. BAN also reported the company to Illinois and federal agencies.
“Intercon Solutions has boasted to customers for a long time in brochures and on its website that it does not export any used electronics entrusted to it for recycling,” BAN said in a 2011 press release. “However, on two separate occasions BAN investigators photographed and tracked containers of electronic waste leaving property leased by Intercon Solutions in Chicago Heights on its way to China.”
The exposé also resulted in the stripping of its R2 certification.
Until his arrest in 2016, Brundage created false and misleading business records and intentionally mislabeled outgoing hazardous materials on invoices and shipping reports.
Federal prosecutors say he ordered employees to lead “sham customer tours” of Intercon’s Chicago Heights facility. He would set up a staged disassembly line to make it look like the company dissembled the products instead of just tossing them into landfills. He also issued fake certificates of destruction and certificates of recycling to his customers.
Brundage also admitted to concealing the income he earned from selling the electronic waste and evading $743,984 in taxes.
“This case demonstrates that EPA and our law enforcement partners are committed to protecting the environment and ensuring that companies follow the law,” Lynn said.
Brundage was also ordered to pay $1.2 million in restitution to his victims, including $179,959.65 to Indianapolis-based Heritage Environmental Services. The company has not responded to requests for comment.
Brundage is also not allowed to work or be associated with the e-waste or scrap metal industries until he finishes his supervised release.