My old friend Darrell Dorgan and I decided to sit in on the sentencing hearing for Jason Halek this morning. A couple of old, retired newsmen, we both went there thinking we were going to see the full measure of the law applied to a Texas con man responsible for one of the biggest pollution violations in North Dakota history. You read about that in the story and timeline I posted last night. Here’s how I started that story:
“If everything goes as planned Monday morning (which would be unusual—nothing much has gone as planned in this case), Jason Halek will walk into the federal courthouse in Bismarck tomorrow morning as a free man, and walk out—figuratively, if not literally—in handcuffs, headed for a federal prison.”
Yep. Things are still not going as planned. I’m going to let Darrell tell the story. Here’s how he wrote it down a couple hours after we left the hearing in disgust, not even sticking around to see what happened to Halek’s co–conspirator, Nathan Garber, whose sentencing was scheduled right after Halek’s.
Here’s Darrell’s summary of what happened.
Santa arrived in Bismarck today. Dismissing recommendations from federal prosecutors, and a defendant’s guilty plea, Federal Judge Daniel Hovland handed down a sentence for a Texas businessman that includes no jail time, just three years probation and six months in a halfway house.
Jason Halek, of Southlake, Texas, was also ordered to make $71 million dollars in restitution for the environmental problems caused by his North Dakota disposal well and the fraudulent sale of investments in Texas oil and gas projects. Following the hearing, his attorney admitted there was no way Halek could ever make restitution of that amount.
Halek has also been accused of hiding information in a previous bankruptcy and pollution violations in the State of Texas.
Halek, who has been selling used cars since the charges were filed, is now in business maintaining stripper wells in Texas. He says his income is about $8,000 a month.
Federal prosecutors had asked for a sentence of up to 30 months in a federal prison, but Hovland said he was not convinced prison would be beneficial, noting it would not allow Halek to work and try to make restitution.
Halek was charged with violating the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act. The case dated back to 2012, after Halek was found operating a saltwater disposal well in Stark County. Injection of wastewater from oil wells was ordered halted because of violations of environmental rules, and 800,000 gallons of saltwater is now in the well site in question, and poses a risk to the City of Dickinson’s water supply.
Halek pleaded guilty to violating the rules and to having safety devices tampered with, in an attempt to deceive inspectors. However, Judge Hovland said, “If the state was concerned about leakage at the site, they could have checked, and no check was done.”
The State of North Dakota, following its long practice of not filing criminal violations in oil field pollution cases, fined Halek more than $1.5 million dollars. That is part of the $71 million his attorney now admits will never be collected.
After the State declined to press criminal charges in the case, the Environmental protection agency did, and Halek pleaded guilty.
Well, Darrell summed it up pretty well. That’s what happened. Confirms what we know. You can do pretty much anything in the North Dakota oil patch with little or no consequence. So, he’s Texas’ problem now. Wonder if their environmental enforcement is any better than ours.
End of Jason Halek story. For now, at least. We’ll have a party when the state gets its check for a million and a half dollars. Uh huh.
(Editor’s note: This story has been edited from its original post to remove an erroneous reference to the North Dakota Health Department.)
9 thoughts on “Halek Sentenced: Probation and a Halfway House”
About 6 years ago, an old friend and rancher in Texas told me that our oil boom in North Dakota would change everything. He said, “I’m sorry for you. You won’t like it.” He was right. Coal used to have an outsized influence, but oil has dwarfed it and appears to totally rule state government. I hope the judiciary recovers independence from oil. The rule of law has been sacred in western civilization since the Magna Carta
Leave me alone. I’m busy gagging.
I don’t know which is more corrupt
1. the oilman who years ago attempted to dispose of poisonous saltwater that could hurt the city of Dickinson’s water supply (and other crimes),
2. the federal judge who allowed him to walk off scot free and despoil the environment again after he was caught committing the crime,
3. or the State Health Department, which didn’t practice due diligence in protecting the safety and welfare of the people of North Dakota and the environment.
I guess his girlfriend(former?) was correct.
The energy industry’s corruption of state government has long been evident. Apparently, I was naive to believe the federal judiciary was exempt.
Hey, Jim and Darrell, I have known both of you guys for many years and I would consider both of you to be of sound mind……most of the time. Yes, I do agree that Halek should be punished for his wrong doing……but, if we castrate him, it would seem likely to me that he would no longer be able to produce…….INCOME….I know what you guys were thinking, as both of you simultaneously crossed you legs in agony…..! Now, if that should happen, one of you could be the holder and the other the cutter……!
yet citizens of this state will cont to vote in these Republicans!! When oh when will they finally see the light, that a republican stands for destroy destroy destroy our beautiful state lands! The only way to stop this is VOTE THEM OUT!! This is soooo important!! Never hear anymore about the worker that claimed the oil co put a pipe under lake Sacagawea that DID NOT have coating on it?? That swept under the carpet too??? soo discouraging! That’s for letting me vent some here!! TY Jim for your work.
No surprise here. I expected it. First, we should remember or realize that a Judge, any Judge, District, State Supreme Court or Federal. a lawyer with political connections. That is how you get to be a Judge. Doubt it, take a close look at the process of becoming a Judge in particular, here in North Dakota. Way beyond merely good ole boys.
As to Halek, this case and story is not really about him. He may be a symbol or a symptom but it is our system that needs to be on trial. Judge Hoveland has just paid back a lot of political obligations. Even he may not believe that but try to explain it away by using facts.
After Hell freezes over, Halek will never even pay the interest on the judgement. It is absurd. It is not repayable. So then what? Prison? Certainly but one cannot expect any kind of repayment. Just way to big.
From my perspective, it is or should be the State of North Dakota on trial. We are complicit. We are a wholly owed subsidiary of the oil industry. Lynn Helms is the CEO. The Health Department knows without anyone sending a memo, just what their job really is. Of course. These are not stupid people. As always in government as well as business, a degree of incompetency exists. I doubt if that is the problem here. Winking and winking is SOP. I had some hope the Gov. Burgum would do better, Not so far. He may be so caught up in his belief that high tech is the Savior of the World that this is just sort of just minor unimportant crap. Or he owes a political debt–not money but owes something just the same.
As to blaming the Republicans, yes, they are in power and will likely remain in power for the foreseeable future. Sad. It is the failure of the Democratic party here. Not the success of the Republicans. This downhill slide is now 35 years old and in 2016, no doubt can remain. The Democrats lost the people. Actually, they turned their backs on them—both nationally and here in North Dakota. Disagree, fine. Look at the vote. Still disagree? And do not attempt to say that it is just money that is the issue. It is not. It is beliefs, perception, disconnect, no damn policy and the list goes on.
It is fixable. And North Dakota and the Nation needs fixing and now. Trump is not the problem nor is Al Carlson and Doug Burgum. The Democratic party, intentionally or not, lost the vote of the very people who they have claimed to represent. Average working people who have given up on the arrogant and elitist Democratic party. They desperately need representation and in spite of many Democrats beliefs, have none. And have little hope left. That is the real explanation of Trump.
My scribbling here is not of the topic of Halek. On the contrary, Halek exists because of the political failures we have allowed. It can be fixed. I hope that more will understand this and step up. If not, more Haleks and Trumps are our future.
I knew Jason personally. Everything they wrote about him is true. Real scum of the earth. He attempted to use black magic against those seeking justice against him in his professional and private life.