Owner of Carville charged

The Carville National Leather sign and building are seen in this 2016 photo. The owner has been arrested for leaving behind toxic chemicals in the building. (The Leader-Herald file photo)

JOHNSTOWN — Former Carville National Leather Corp. owner Robert J. Carville was arrested Tuesday on a federal indictment alleging he knowingly stored hundreds of gallons of hazardous chemicals at his plant.

The U.S. Department of Justice, Northern District this week issued a news release indicating that the 56-year-old West Palm Beach, Fla. man was charged in connection with the former city tannery he owned at 10 Knox Ave.

The release indicated Carville was arrested on charges he “illegally stored hazardous waste in an abandoned tannery building in Johnstown, N.Y. where Carville had owned and operated a tannery known as Carville National Leather.”

The Carville building — shut down by its owners in August 2013 – is not a city-owned building. The building on the city’s west side is the former Knox Gelatine Factory, a major employer through much of the 20th Century.

Reached this morning, Carville gave “no comment” before hanging up.

Albany-based Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Barnett today also said he couldn’t answer questions.

“We don’t really comment beyond the indictment,” Barnett stated. “These are the allegations the grand jury returned.”

Carville was arrested Tuesday in West Palm Beach and appeared before a magistrate judge in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. He is scheduled to be arraigned Monday in federal court in Albany.

The release indicates charges filed against Carville carry a maximum sentence of three years in prison, a maximum fine of more than $41 million — based on the number of days of violations alleged in the indictment — and a term of post-imprisonment supervised release of up to one year.

The announcement of his arrest was made by U.S. Attorney Grant C. Jaquith and Tyler Amon, special agent in charge for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Criminal Investigation Division for EPA’s Regions 1 and 2.

“The indictment alleges that Carville knowingly stored hundreds of gallons of hazardous waste, including chromium, lead, and both ignitable and corrosive chemicals, without a permit for more than two years beginning in April 2014 at the abandoned Carville National Leather facility located at 10 Knox Ave. in Johnstown, N.Y., in violation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act,” the release says.

Federal attorneys added, “The indictment also alleges that Carville failed to report the release of these hazardous substances by failing to notify appropriate governmental agencies that he had abandoned these hazardous chemicals, in violation of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, commonly known as the Superfund law.”

This case is being investigated by EPA and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael F. Perry.

Carville National Leather Corp. has a storied history in the city.

Founded by 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 in 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 public concern.

The U.S. Department of Justice news release said similar spills and other environmental violations can be reported to EPA’s Superfund National Response Center hotline at 1-800-424-8802 or online at epa.gov/tips.

By Patricia Older

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