13223967_sUSA: An Ohio man who stole air conditioning units for their scrap copper faces 31 months in prison for releasing R22 refrigerant to atmosphere.

Martin C Eldridge III, 35, of Columbus pleaded guilty in US District Court to violating the USA’s Clean Air Act when he cut the pipes on air conditioning units he was stealing, thus releasing R22, a regulated refrigerant, into the environment.

According to court documents, Eldridge and others stole at least 49 air conditioning units between August and October last year in order to sell the copper and parts from the units at scrap yards.

Eldridge pleaded guilty to one count of knowingly venting HCFCs into the environment. Under terms of the plea agreement, Eldridge will serve 31 months in federal prison. The plea agreement recommends that Eldridge serve the federal sentence concurrent with his state sentence on the theft charges.

Eldridge has been in custody since October 2, 2013. Following prison time, Eldridge will be under court supervision for 12 months during which time he must perform 200 hours of community service. The judge is to review the terms of the plea agreement before determining whether or not to accept the agreed-to sentence and schedule a date for sentencing.

“The defendant’s continual theft of air conditioner parts was illegal and a clear violation of the Clean Air Act,” commented Randall K Ashe, special agent in charge of EPA’s criminal enforcement programme in Ohio.  “As this defendant has learned, anyone who thinks that breaking the law is worth the risk should think again.”

This is the first federal case of its kind in the Southern District of Ohio.