A Buffalo hauler of hazardous waste choked up when he left Niagara County Court on Tuesday, after he learned that he will avoid a prison sentence and fines for forging weight permits on his company trucks in Erie and Niagara counties.
Jonathon W. Price, 38, owner of Price Trucking on Beacon Street, was sentenced to five years of probation by Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon Farkas. He received a similar sentence from Erie County Judge Kenneth F. Case on May 10.
When asked by Farkas about ordering restitution, Niagara County Assistant District Attorney Brian D. Seaman said that although Price gained financial benefit from the forgeries, there was no out-of-pocket costs to the state to pay back.
Farkas also ordered mandatory drug and alcohol testing and a mental health evaluation.
"You may need some treatment, and you will have to follow through," Farkas said.
Price pleaded guilty to second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument in each county in December. He could have received up to 14 years in prison, seven in each county.
The hauler forged state Department of Transportation permits for about 20 of his company's trucks, Seaman said in December.
State Police Investigator Brian A. Hejza told The Buffalo News late last year that Price's company had "overweight permits" that cost $750 a year and allow the trucks to carry more than the nominal limit of 80,000 pounds of hazardous waste.
Price's trucks had used the phony permits to make 264 documented trips to the CWM Chemical Services landfill in Porter between August 2010 and June 2011, according to Investigator David DiPasquale of the state Department of Environmental Conservation's Bureau of Environmental Crimes.
No truck drivers were prosecuted, but Price's attorney, Joseph M. LaTona, told Farkas on Tuesday that his client was given leniency in Erie County because as a condition of his plea he provided information that "proved invaluable" in the investigation of the person who was creating the permits.
"This other individual devised the software to create these permits," LaTona said.
LaTona requested probation because of his client's cooperation with investigators. He said that Price Trucking is a family business, which has been in operation for 75 years, but that in 2008 a Syracuse company for which Price did $800,000 worth of work "stiffed" him and led him to look for a way out.
"He is a married man with five children, and he is the sole provider," the lawyer said. "As a small business, he suffered in this economy and unfortunately opted to take a criminal route. It's not an excuse; it's an explanation. He has cooperated fully with the State Police and is deeply sorry."
Price said after court that he has had to decrease the number of his employees to 60, from 100, and will now try to rebuild his business.
"This has been the worst year of my life and has had a terrible impact on my business," he said. "I want to re-earn and restore the confidence of customers. We have been in business for 75 years, and this was just an anomyly."
Price tried to explain what led up to the criminal behavior by saying, "It's crazy. People don't always realize the stress [of running a small business]. You are responsible for 100 other families and my own family. You want to earn enough to provide for all of them."