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B.C. man to stand trial in Texas on pollution charge

Herb Larsen, Canadian business executive who was arrested at Canada US border as director and owner of a company that was dumping alkaline batteries illegally in Texas, at his research facility in Abbotsford, BC, May 28, 2010.

Laura Leyshon for the Globe and Mail/laura leyshon The Globe and Mail

Herbert Larsen is a Christian inspirational speaker, published illustrator, master gun engraver, long-time musician and industrial inventor. He runs a mechanical design-engineering firm that manufactures automated machinery.

Now the 55-year-old from Abbotsford, B.C., fits another description: accused polluter, waiting to stand trial in Texas for allegedly storing and disposing of thousands of household batteries illegally.

Mr. Larsen, an owner and director of Batteries Reclamation Inc., has been accused of breaking U.S. federal and state hazardous waste regulations in Pecos, Tex., a city of around 8,000 near the Texas-New Mexico border.

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BRI faces more than $17-million (U.S.) in fines and civil penalties for activities on its two-hectare site, the daily Odessa American has reported. If convicted of illegal storing and disposing of hazardous materials, Mr. Larsen could face up to five years in prison or fines as high as $50,000 a day for each day the company has been in violation.

Mr. Larsen was on his way to a Christian men's retreat in northern California last month when he was stopped at the Canada-U.S. border. He was held in custody in Seattle for four days before being released on his own recognizance and allowed to return to Canada.

His lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, said Mr. Larsen had been picked up for an alleged regulatory violation as a result of "draconian measures" to stop terrorists at the Canada-U.S. border.

"It is really outrageous what they are doing," Mr. DeGuerin said from Houston. "Herbert Larsen has never been in any kind of difficulty with the law in his life. He is a man of God… What has happened to him is a nightmare of bureaucratic nonsense."

Mr. Larsen declined to comment about the legal case. He said his four days in custody were demeaning. "It was hellacious," Mr. Larsen said from Abbotsford. "The way they treat you, it is all about destroying human dignity as fast as they can."

The federal indictment filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas outlines criminal charges against Mr. Larsen, an employee, Kathy Cox, and Caridad Bahr, a Florida-based broker who negotiated the shipment of 2,000 tonnes of waste batteries over an eight-year period from Taiwan to the Pecos recycling plant.

The indictment alleges that Mr. Larsen, Ms. Cox and Mr. Bahr agreed to store and dispose of the hazardous waste batteries without a permit to avoid costs associated with proper storage and disposal. They are also accused of conspiracy to defraud the government by submitting false documentation or failing to file the required documentation.

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Joe Hubbard, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency spokesman, said the investigation into the affairs of the company has been going on for more than a year. The indictment outlined allegations that have not been tested in court, and the accused remain not guilty unless proven guilty.

The Odessa American reported that an investigation in 2004 found several violations of the hazardous waste permit. The state subsequently declined to renew the company's permit; it has been closed since then, although batteries continue to be stored on its property.

Mr. Larsen's role was limited to buying the company, finding investors and designing some machinery, Mr. DeGuerin said. "He was not there on a day-to-day basis, by any means, and would only visit from time to time. It was being run by people that had been running it for years," the lawyer said.

Mr. Larsen, who is married and has two children, has lived in Canada since he was six months old. However, he remains a U.S. citizen and does not have Canadian citizenship.

He said he has patents for inventions for machinery used in the cement and lime industries. Reflecting his eclectic interests, he has illustrated several books for Toronto's Gage Publishing. He plays in a folk and bluegrass band that has performed on television and at international folk festivals. He is also a master gun engraver who has been featured in Gun Digest and Guns and Ammo.

Mr. Larsen runs Tash Industrial Design Inc. in Abbotsford, a mechanical design-engineering firm and manufacturer specializing in heavy industrial machinery and equipment. The company has sales of under $1.5-million. It was significantly larger years ago, he said, but he cut back his involvement to spend more time as a Christian inspirational speaker.

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"That is the most important thing I do in life," he said. "I discovered years ago that chasing money, cars, material things brings zero happiness."

He speaks to Christian colleges, different denominational churches, men's retreats and spiritual revivals. His sermons are carried on Christian broadcasting networks. He said he has "massive support" around the globe.

"Tens of thousands of people," Mr. Larsen said, "are praying all over the world for me."

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