For some environmentalists, there are few people as vile as Scottsdale-based developer George H. Johnson and his associates. Johnson was accused of bulldozing, filling and diverting a 5-mile stretch of the Santa Cruz River and its tributaries. As Joe Biden would say, “let me repeat that” 5 MILES. While the government reached a settlement with a $1.25 million penalty, Johnson and his contractor will not have to admit guilt and will not face any possible criminal charge.
During the administration of Bush Sr., I authored a study of the Environmental Crimes Section of the Justice Department that detailed a pattern of plea agreements and settlements used to scuttle criminal investigations against companies. This settlement, while civil, raises similar concerns.
The $1.25 million penalty against George H. Johnson and his associates is one of the highest in history, but the damage here is breathtaking. Johnson and his partners reached a record $12.1 million settlement with the state last year.
Johnson International Inc. and General Hunt Properties Inc. – as well as contractor 3-F Contracting Inc., was accused of having razed and filled the area along the lower Santa Cruz and the Los Robles Wash and clearing land for a development in Pinal County near Red Rock. They never got the permit required for such work and altered the course of the Santa Cruz. They are accused of bulldozing state-trust land, demolishing Hohokam archaeological sites and destroying saguaros and other native vegetation.
Yet, they will now just write a check and enjoy the results of the unlawful work. Their counsel has emphasized that they did not have to admit any guilt.
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