BUTTE COUNTY, Calif. - A Chico businessman pleaded guilty Thursday to several charges stemming from a 2020 incident where he was caught dumping asbestos on his property north of Chico.
71-year-old Richard E. Parks pleaded guilty to felony charges of transporting hazardous materials without a permit and improper disposal of hazardous materials. He also pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of endangering a state waterway.
This all began in Feb. of 2020 when the California Department of Fish and Wildlife was contacted by a concerned person north of Chico, saying he saw a man, later identified as Parks, dumping an abundant number of suspicious waste on his own property near Keefer Road, according to Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey.
A warden from the department was then sent over to check it out on Feb. 29, 2020. As the warden was reaching out to Parks, they noticed Parks was in the process of dumping the contents of a dump truck into a large dug hole on Parks' property.
In that hole, the warden immediately found several large bags labeled "asbestos," shortly after the discovery, the scene was quarantined. The Butte County District Attorney's office was contacted about the dumping and sent its environmental crimes investigator to assist.
An environmental scientist was also called over to test those bags, confirming they contained asbestos, a known carcinogenic substance.
The property belonging to Parks was then shut down by police and treated as a crime scene.
Investigators from the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the California Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC) out of Sacramento and the District Attorney’s Office served a search warrant at Park’s property.
At the property, they took additional samples of the material and taking steps to ensure the dangerous materials would not spread further.
While the investigation was going on, authorities found out that Parks removed the asbestos from buildings he owned at the North Valley Plaza along East Ave. and Cohasset Road in Chico.
Parks then transported the asbestos to his own residential property along Keefer Road, Parks did that without a permit and dumped the asbestos in a way that could cause it to become airborne and expose other homes nearby, according to Ramsey.
Ramsey said the location where Parks dumped the asbestos was also a drainage near Rock Creek. Investigators also discovered another location on the same property where Parks had dumped asbestos several years before.
All the dumped asbestos was cleaned up by an independent environmental cleanup company which the DA ordered Parks to flip the bill.
The entire process cost Parks $230,000 to date and Parks' property is considered to be safe by the DTSC.
Ramsey said Parks’ sentence will include formal felony probation with 120 days in Butte County Jail and a $100,000 fine.
Additionally, Parks will be responsible for paying for the testing of neighboring properties to determine if they were affected by his dumping of the toxic materials, as well as for any cleanup that may become necessary for those properties. The DA said that process has already begun.
Ramsey said had Parks chosen to dispose of the material properly in the first place, it would only have cost less than $10,000.
He added because of Parks’ cheap, reckless and criminal decision to dump the toxic asbestos at his house instead, when the cleanup and criminal processes are over, it will cost Parks well in excess of $330,000, noting, “When you play stupid games, you win stupid prizes.”
Parks will next appear in court on July 22, 2021, to begin his sentence and confirm any further restitution owing from his felonious acts.