President of company responsible for West Virginia chemical spill arrested on Marco Island

Author: Adam Wright
Published: Updated:

LEE COUNTY, Fla.- The man in the center of one of the biggest controversies in West Virginia history appeared before a federal judge in Fort Myers Tuesday.

Gary Southern, president of Freedom Industries, had his first appearance in federal court. His company is responsible for the chemical spill that left hundreds of thousands of people in West Virginia without usable water for several days earlier this year.

When he’s not in West Virginia, Southern spends his time in Southwest Florida. He owns a home on Marco Island.

The FBI has been investigating him for months, claiming he lied under oath to protect his financial assets.

Southern was taken into custody MondayTuesday, he entered the federal courtroom shackled in chains but left a free man.

Southern had no comment when asked about the accusations against him.

Southern was named president of Freedom Industries shortly before a company tank leaked a coal mining chemical into the Elk River near Charleston, West Virginia in January. The leak contaminated the water supply for nearly 300,000 people.

Freedom Industries filed for bankruptcy shortly after the spill, but according to the FBI, Southern lied about his role with the company prior to being named president in order to deflect blame and protect himself financially. He now faces 30 years in prison – accused of bankruptcy fraud, lying under oath and wire fraud.

The government wanted Southern’s bond set at $500,000 noting his net worth of $7.7 million. His federal public defender called the amount ridiculous.

“It shouldn’t be based on how much someone has in the bank,” said Martin DerOvanesian.

The judge ended up releasing him on a $100,000 bond.

Southern did not have to enter a plea Tuesday. The judge restricted his travel to Florida and West Virginia. The rest of this case will be handled in West Virginia.

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