Criminal Justice

Building Engineer's Response to Blocked Toilets Results in Criminal Conviction

Federal criminal prosecutions are expanding, and building engineer Lawrence Lewis is an example.

Lewis tried to cope with a backed-up sewage system at the military retirement home where he worked by diverting the system into an outside storm drain, the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) reports. Lewis believed the drain was connected to the Washington, D.C., sewage system, but it actually emptied into a creek that feeds the Potomac River. About 30 percent of city storm drains flow to a treatment plant, but the drain Lewis used wasn’t one of them, the story says.

Lewis diverted the waste to avoid flooding in part of the home where the sickest residents lived. But the result was a prosecution for violating the Clean Water Act, the newspaper reports. Lewis pleaded guilty and got a sentence of probation. Afterward, probation officers made spot checks at his new workplace and once visited his home at 6 a.m. for an unannounced search.

According to the story, “Lewis was caught in Washington’s four-decade expansion of federal criminal law.” There are now about 4,500 federal crimes, compared to just three mentioned in the Constitution—treason, piracy and counterfeiting.

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