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.)