September 5, 2013 Updated: September 5, 2013 at 3:24 pm
Christopher Houtchens, owner of Colorado Springs-based Colorado Tire Solutions Inc. and a member of a state committee on waste tire disposal, pleaded guilty to possession of a forged document in connection with a scheme to defraud a Colorado fund that reimburses companies that process recycled or waste tires.
Houtchens, 37, of Colorado Springs, was sentenced Aug. 26 to 10 days in jail and two years of probation and also was ordered to pay the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment $17,189 in restitution. Colorado Tire Solutions also pleaded guilty to forgery and was ordered to pay a $10,000 fine to the Colorado Environmental Crimes sampling fund. Houtchens and his company were indicted May 30 by the Colorado State Grand Jury in Denver on six counts of theft, attempted theft, forgery, computer crime and attempt to influence a public servant, all felonies.
"It is particularly galling that (Mr.) Houtchens was a member of the state's Waste Tire Advisory Committee and tasked with preventing illegalities and improprieties with the program," Colorado Attorney General John Suthers said in a press release issued Thursday. "His excuse for breaking the law was that it was all right because 'everybody does it.' "
Houtchens told state officials that his shipments of waste tire material were transported by Arizona-based Reyes Trucking and sold to Phoenix-based Sunrise Barricade and Safety, who then sold the materials to a company in Mexico. He told the state officials he could no provide proof of the transactions with documents or invoices, repeatedly changing his story and claiming all transactions were made in cash. He eventually confessed to the scheme when confronted by investigators from the Attorney General's Office and the Environmental Protection Agency, the release said.
Houtchens resigned in June from the Waste Tire Advisory Committee, which was created in 2010 by legislation that consolidated all waste tire programs under the state health department. The nine-member committee was required under the legislation to develop enforcement and management practices to reduce the risk to people, property and the environment from waste tires, to prevent the illegal transportation and disposal of waste tires, to develop markets for waste tires and come up with a long-term plan to reduce waste-tire stockpiles.
The state collects fees from the sale of every tire and that revenue is used for tire disposal, recycling and reuse programs, including the Waste Tire Processor and End User Program started last year that paid reimbursements based on weight to create a financial incentive to companies that process and develop uses for recycled or waste tires.
Houtchens and his company falsely claimed or inflated the weight of waste tires in forged documents filed between July 2012 and March with the department through fake email accounts and fraudulent email messages that resulted in reimbursements he and the company should not have received totaling $17,707.82, according to the indictment.
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