Chevron Used Two Prominent U.S. Professors to Defraud Ecuador Court, Documents Reveal

By 09 January, 2012

Even though it lost the historic $18 billion trial in Ecuador, Chevron continues to defraud Ecuador’s appellate courts by refusing to disclose that it altered a key document to induce two U.S. academic “experts” to endorse fake testing methods to hide the presence of massive quantities of cancer-causing toxins at the company’s former well sites in Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest, according to new documents released under federal court order.

“This is smoking gun evidence that Chevron duped two U.S. professors as part of a failed plan to hide the presence of massive amounts of life-threatening toxic contamination from the courts of Ecuador,” said Karen Hinton, the U.S. spokesperson for the 30,000 Ecuadorians who brought suit against the oil giant.

The U.S. professors hired by Chevron to defraud the Ecuador court, Hinton said, are Dr. Pedro J. Alvarez currently the chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Rice University, and Dr. Douglas Mackay, an adjunct professor at the University of California, Davis.

Hinton called on both professors to disavow their report, which was submitted to Ecuador’s court in 2006 as part of the company’s belated attempt to defend deceptive sampling practices that had been questioned by prominent experts during the trial.

Despite Chevron’s scheme to hide the contamination, an Ecuador court in February found the company liable for dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste into the rainforest. The court relied on scientific evidence from the plaintiffs, third-parties, and even Chevron itself, which bungled its own plan early in the trial by submitting soil and water samples that showed illegal levels of contamination at the company’s well sites.

The Ecuador court found that Chevron’s deliberate dumping of toxic waste poisoned streams and rivers relied on by local inhabitants for their drinking water, decimated five indigenous groups, and caused dramatically higher rates of leukemia. Both parties are now appealing the judgment, which was set at $18 billion. Chevron operated in Ecuador from 1964 to 1992.

The smoking gun documents, which were ordered released by a U.S. federal court in Colorado as part of a discovery action against a separate Chevron technical expert, suggest that Chevron’s legal team concocted a plan to guarantee the company would find only “clean” soil samples from dozens of contaminated well sites inspected by the court while “dirty” samples would be sent to a secret laboratory where they would not be disclosed.

Chevron’s technical team executed the scheme by surreptitiously visiting dozens of company well sites in the rainforest where they would mark the exact spots where they could find “clean” soil and water samples, usually located uphill from contaminated waste pits. The plan to defraud the court was written up in a Chevron document called the “Judicial Inspection Playbook” that contained a summary table outlining the company’s sampling and testing program.

After Chevron’s surreptitious pre-inspections – during the official judge-supervised inspections of the same sites, which often came just days later – Chevron’s technical experts miraculously would discover only “clean” soil and water samples. Based on these samples, the company would report to the court that there were no detectable levels of contamination at a particular site despite the visible presence of oil waste in open-air pits. When the obviously deceptive sampling practices came under attack by the plaintiffs, Chevron hired Professors Alvarez and Mackay to defend the company.

Their report submitted to the court concluded that there was “no foundation” for allegations that Chevron’s sampling program “deliberately hides or minimizes the existing contamination.”

The problem, though, is that neither Alvarez nor Mackay apparently knew that were being duped by Chevron in that they based their opinion on a doctored version of the “Judicial Inspections Playbook” that omitted the explicit instructions to lift only “clean” samples. The doctored version instead altered language in eight places to make it appear that the company was doing a valid environmental assessment at the well sites. The Alvarez/Mackay report also was signed by Dr. Robert E. Hinchee, a civil engineer and paid Chevron consultant during the Ecuador trial.

Pablo Fajardo, the lead Ecuadorian lawyer, said the documents ordered released by the U.S. court “clearly prove Chevron engaged in a meticulous planning process to defraud the Ecuador court during the judicial inspections process, which was the central part of the entire trial.”

Fajardo said: “Chevron’s fraud is ongoing in that the report signed by Alvarez and Mackay is part of the official trial record being relied on by the appellate court. It’s outrageous that Chevron does not withdraw this report and fire its lawyers and consultants who planned this nefarious attack on the truth designed to hide the presence of toxins that are literally killing off indigenous groups.”

Fajardo also called on Eric Holder, the Attorney General of the United States, and Galo Chiriboga, Ecuador’s national prosecutor, to open a joint criminal investigation to determine the facts related to the fraudulent scheme given that the planning took place in the United States while the execution took place on the ground in Ecuador.

“Chevron committed a double fraud that was planned and executed in two countries,” he said. “First, it defrauded Ecuador’s courts by hiding horrific levels of contamination that it knew existed. It then defrauded American professors by giving them a fake document so they would unwittingly endorse the original fraud. The silence of Chevron and the two professors in the face of these profoundly disturbing facts is deafening.”

Chevron officials believed to have conspired to use the U.S. professors to defraud the court are Ricardo Reis Veiga, a Chevron executive supervising the Ecuador trial from his office in Miami; Sara McMillan, Chevron’s lead in-house scientist on the litigation; and John Conner, a long-time Chevron environmental consultant and owner of GSI Environmental. Conner is believed to have drafted, under the supervision of Chevron lawyers, both “The Judicial Inspection Playbook” and the doctored version given to the professors.

Chevron’s deceptive sampling plan is also consistent with previous statements made by an Ecuadorian contractor for the company, Diego Borja. Borja told a friend that while working for Chevron he would swap out contaminated soil samples collected during the judicial inspections with clean samples from other locations, which would be submitted to the court. Borja also said in a taped conversation that the laboratory Chevron used during the trial was not independent as the company claimed. Borja’s wife, Sara Portilla, also worked for STL.

Chevron has long been accused of using fraudulent junk science in Ecuador. In the mid-1990s, it used a deceptive laboratory test (called the TCLP) that guaranteed it would only find a tiny fraction of actual toxins in the soil as part of a sham clean-up effort required by Ecuador’s government.

In the meantime, Chevron’s legal position in the historic litigation continues to weaken. Not only did the company lose the trial in Ecuador, it recently suffered a setback when a U.S. federal appellate court stayed a Chevron lawsuit in the U.S. that sought an unprecedented worldwide injunction barring the Ecuadorians from trying to enforce their judgment. Further, the credibility of Chevron’s technical experts is diminishing rapidly in light of the obvious fraud they were committing in Ecuador, said Hinton.

Chevron has stripped its assets from Ecuador in anticipation of an adverse judgment, forcing the plaintiffs to consider standard collection actions against Chevron in other countries should the trial judgment become enforceable.

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