The County Attorney Sends A Message: A Local Polluter Gets Jail Time

ortiz standing water.JPG
Photo courtesy Harris County Attorney
Here's something relatively new: A Harris County polluter is going to jail.

Vince Ryan, the new Harris County Attorney, has decided to make pollution a priority, and he went after the owner of a northside auto-parts salvage company that had been dragging its legs on cleaning up and paying fines.

He convinced district judge Tony Lindsay that the polluter was in contempt of a court order mandating clean-up, and so Luis Ortiz will now be spending five days in jail.

It's been about 10 years since that's happened, the office announced.

Harris County Special Counsel Terry O'Rourke tells Hair Balls -- who forgot to ask if he still goes by the nickname "El Tigre" -- that the move was designed to put a scare into other polluters.

"In the 21st century there hasn't been anyone sent to jail by the Harris County Attorney's office because of pollution," he says. "We plan to send a lot more, to send a message."

Ortiz, O'Rourke said, "is not some poor Hispanic -- he's a businessman with several locations, and he just cut corners."

The case, involving a property at 8401 Airline, has been around since 2006. In January, Ortiz was ordered to pay $45,000 in fines and clean up the toxic waste.

O'Rourke notes that the county attorney doesn;t have jurisdiction over criminal matters, but by bringing civil suits -- with the threat of contempt for ignoring court orders -- they can get things done.

Ortiz, for instance, can be sent back to jail if the property isn't cleaned up as the court has ordered.

"Once you get that steel door slamming on you, it really makes a difference," says the ever-quotable El Tigre.

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Richard Connelly
Contact: Richard Connelly