A Palo Alto man pleaded guilty to felony charges of illegally shipping and receiving hazardous and toxic materials through his shipping company, the U.S. Attorney's Office said Wednesday.
Peiwen Zhou, 55, admitted he didn't competently train employees to comply with two federal laws when he appeared in federal court in San Francisco before U.S. District Judge James Donato on Wednesday. He faces up to five years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines when he's sentenced on April 18.
Zhou and the company he owned, AK Scientific Inc. in Union City, were indicted in February. He faced a single felony count against the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act and a misdemeanor count for violating the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Federal investigators found the workers didn't properly label, mark and identify packages to alert the recipients of hazardous materials on multiple occasions.
The employees also failed to file import certifications required under the TSCA when they ordered chemical substances coming into the country, prosecutors said. In one instance, the company received a package from China containing 1,2-dibromoethane, but the substance was labeled under a different name. The cancer-causing chemical was used as an additive in lead gasoline and a pesticide in soil and on citrus, vegetable and grain crops, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.
As part of his plea deal with prosecutors, he will step down from his post at AK Scientific Inc. and cease participation in the company's shipping and regulatory transactions.
The business, which also was charged in the case, has agreed to pay $100,000 and bring itself to federal compliance through an independent monitor. The federal case against the shipper will be dismissed if it complies with the agreement for three years, which in part requires the company to adhere to safety guidelines and labeling requirements, prosecutors said.
"Americans must be protected from those who skirt laws designed to protect workers and the public from mismanagement of toxic substances," U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt said in a press release. "The illegal importation and shipment of toxic substances in this case represents a clear threat to public safety and we will hold the responsible parties accountable under the law."