SANTA ROSA (KPIX 5) -- A North Bay man who runs a septic tank service is facing felony charges of dumping thousands of gallons of raw sewage.
Police arrested Carlos Chavez, 63, owner of Petaluma Septic Service in December. He is accused of dumping truckloads of waste retrieved from septic tanks down a self-made manhole on his Penngrove property hundreds of times.
Investigators used security cameras and underground sensors to allegedly catch Chavez in the act. They believe he could have dumped nearly one million gallons of sewage this year.
"It was clearly shocking the amount of unlawful discharges, the way he did it, the way he was able to bypass the system for so long," said Santa Rosa Police Detective Brandon Matthies.
Police said Chavez would pump 3,000 gallons of sewage from multiple homes into his truck. Then, through the manhole he dug out in the backyard of his property, police said he would pump the sewage into Rohnert Park's public system, avoiding going to a certified dumping site that charges a fee.
Investigators say they have evidence of Chavez doing this 326 times in 2017. Police learned about the illegal dumping in November but say the evidence indicates Chavez was dumping the waste illegally for many years.
Chavez, who was arrested in 1998 and 2000 and has a prior conviction in Sonoma County for illegal dumping, has run the septic service out of his home since 1973.
Detectives said he was able to keep running his septic company by lying on his application, and using his brother's name to get a permit.
"That waste has potential catastrophic impacts on the integrity of the sanitary sewer system as well as damaging pumps in the sewer system and can ultimately impact thousands of people on that line," said Matthies.
Neighbors who didn't want to go on camera wonder if he has put their health at risk. In 2016, neighbors sued the city after they found E.coli and fecal matter in their drinking water.
Neighbors also said the sewage system suffered consistent backups for several years, now police believe they finally understand why.
If convicted, Chavez faces more than 16 years in prison.
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