Judge Orders Freon Smuggler to Pay $250,000

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FILE PHOTO: Signage is seen at the United States Department of Justice headquarters in Washington, D.C.

A Fort Worth man who smuggled freon into the U.S. was ordered to pay a $250,000 fine, announced U.S. Attorney Chad E. Meacham.

Faiz Abdallahi, 56, pleaded guilty in October 2021 to the improper importation of a class II substance, a felony under the Federal Clean Air Act. He was sentenced Tuesday to three years’ probation by Senior U.S. District Judge Terry R. Means.

According to plea papers, Mr. Abdallahi admitted that he smuggled HCFC-22, also known as R-22 refrigerant gas – an ozone-depleting chemical colloquially called freon – into the U.S. without an authorized permit in 2017.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would later phase out production of R-22, which can no longer be produced or imported as of 2020.  Only recovered, recycled, or reclaimed supplies of R-22 are currently available, though consumers are not required to stop using R-22 air conditioners.

Mr. Abdallahi admits he arranged for Chinese R-22 to be delivered to the port of Long Beach California and then transported via rail to the Dallas/Fort Worth area disguised as R32 to avoid seizure by the US Customs and Border Protection.  His co-conspirator, 53-year-old Severo Zamora, then re-packaged and sold the R-22 to Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) companies in the U.S.  (Mr. Zamora pleaded guilty in January 2022 to being an accessory after the fact and was sentenced to six months’ probation.)

“The defendant’s intentional disregard for the environment included the illegal sale of hydrochlorflourocarbon-22 (R-22), a restricted substance which not only damages the ozone layer that protects people from the harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation, but also contributes to climate change,” said Todd “Tony” Adams, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the EPA’s Southwest Area criminal enforcement program. “EPA and our federal partners continue to hold accountable companies and individuals that place public safety and the environment at risk.”

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The investigation was conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Criminal Investigation Division and Homeland Security Investigations.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas Allen prosecuted the case.