Ex-director of Lee water testing lab heads to trial after plea talks collapse
PITTSFIELD -- The former director of a water testing lab will be heading to trial on 58 charges related to alleged falsified water reports after plea negations broke down on Wednesday.
William Enser Jr., 64, of Lee, backdated drinking water sample analyses between 2008 and 2010 in order to "cover up misconduct and feign compliance with environmental laws," according to the state Attorney General's Office.
At the time, Enser was the director of Berkshire Enviro-Labs, a company that provided water-testing services for as many as 300 clients, including a number of Berkshire County cities and towns, and monitored the safety of public drinking water within state-mandated standards.
The reports in question involved testing for the presence of nitrates and nitrites. The tests are only reliable if done within 48 hours of the samples being taken, according to the AG's Office.
Assistant Attorney General Sara Farnum of the Environmental Crimes Strike Force said after Enser was initially charged, he continued to falsify reports, committing "more serious tampering."
Enser was later charged with 28 more misdemeanors. The AG's Office said between October 2012 and February 2013, Enser requested his employees to take several samples from each water supply and then submit the one that passed.
In October 2012, he directed an employee to submit a water sample taken from the tap at Enviro-Labs in Lee and misreport that the sample came from a public water supply in Richmond that contained bacteria, according to Farnum.
In February 2013, he failed to report a water sample taken that tested positive for the presence of E. coli, a "potentially lethal" contaminant and instead submitted a report showing there was no contamination, among other violations, the DEP alleged.
The sample was collected from Uncle Larry's Tavern in Becket, according to the DEP. After the discovery, the agency issued a "boil water alert," which instructs people to boil water used for human consumption or to use bottled water. According to the DEP website, the alert is still in effect.
Enser's attorney, Jeffrey T. Scrimo, has said the public was never at risk and that the sample the state alleged contained E. coli was taken from raw water before it entered a chlorination system and before it would have been consumed.
Enser has no criminal record and Berkshire Enviro-Labs had no problems in its 30-year history before these allegations surfaced, according to the lawyer.
In Berkshire Superior Court on Wednesday, Farnum asked that Judge John A. Agostini send Enser to jail for one year, followed by two years of probation. One of the conditions would have ordered Enser to donate $100,000 to the state Natural Resources Damages Program, which supports projects that restore damaged water resources in Massachusetts.
It was unclear what Enser's attorney was asking for since Agostini halted the change of plea hearing after Enser denied that he had willfully backdated drinking water samples and submitted the reports in regard to the first set of indictments.
Enser said he had been "negligent."
Scrimo told the court his client was using the term more "broadly" than the legal definition. Enser made the decision to let the falsifying of reports happen, the attorney said.
Agostini said he couldn't take the plea if Enser was unwilling to admit he willfully committed the offenses.
The case will now be headed to trial on May 8.
This was the second attempt to resolve the case short of trial.
Enser remains free on personal recognizance. He has surrendered his drinking water operator license, meaning he cannot continue to work in the field.
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