ENFIELD, Conn. (AP) _ A former Windsor Locks business owner has been sentenced to five years in prison for leaving behind hazardous waste at his onetime work site and failing to pay his former employees for months.

Donald Cunningham, who ran his Hanson-Whitney manufacturing business for more than 30 years before it went bankrupt, was sentenced Tuesday in Enfield Superior Court as part of a plea agreement, the Journal Inquirer reported. He must serve at least four years.

Cunningham fled the country and was apprehended when he returned from Canada in June 2012.

The 70-year-old was found guilty of failure to pay wages, improper disposal of waste, failure to establish a solid waste facility and failure to maintain waste records.

“The buck stops here,” Cunningham said to his former employees during his court appearance. “My biggest mistake was not closing the doors earlier. Please accept my apologies.”

Authorities said in June 2012 that Cunningham left behind barrels of cyanide and other dangerous materials almost a year after his business closed in 2007, costing the state and federal government $600,000 in cleanup costs.

“It was the worst I’ve seen in my career,” said David Poynton, a state environmental inspector.

In defiance of an order by state environmental officials to clean up his facility,  Cunningham instead consolidated his businesses, directed employees to drain hazardous materials into drums and moved them to his facility in Windsor Locks, prosecutor Tamberlyn Conopask said.

Cunningham’s sentence does not include restitution to the 23 employees who filed complaints with the state Labor Department for not being paid $152,848 in wages.

Prosecutors sought wage compensation.

Many employees worked for months without receiving a paycheck and lost their health insurance during a time when they needed it the most, Conopask told the judge.
Information from: Journal Inquirer, http://www.journalinquirer.com

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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