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Santa Barbara Environmental Consultants Take Plea Deal in State Fraud Case

Husband-and-wife owners of Hayden Environmental are accused of overbilling state by more than $1 million

The owners of an environmental consulting firm accused of overbilling the State Water Resources Control Board have taken a conditional plea agreement and will be sentenced in Santa Barbara County Superior Court in June.

Kurt Hayden and his wife, Julie, of Santa Barbara-based Hayden Environmental Inc., were both charged with conspiracy to commit a crime and felony grand theft from the state for allegedly overbilling for time, vehicles and equipment when they applied for Underground Storage Tank Cleanup Fund reimbursements.

The water board’s Cleanup Fund comes from a 2-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax that reimburses for cleanups at underground petroleum storage tank facilities. Hayden Environmental has been reimbursed more than $12.9 million from the fund since 1995, according to the criminal complaint.

A 2008 audit of three sites determined that the company had overbilled, which prompted an investigation and eventually a search of the Haydens’ multimillion-dollar home on Alameda Padre Serra in Santa Barbara.

The state Attorney General’s Office is prosecuting the case and also filed a civil suit against the Haydens for damages and injunctive relief.

A portion of the money Hayden Environmental received was “based on false and misleading invoices” and the state aimed to get the money back for the Cleanup Fund. According to the complaint, “the couple and HEI are believed to have fraudulently obtained over $1 million” from the fund.

There was a conditional plea made last week for the criminal case, according to Lynda Gledhill, spokeswoman for state Attorney General Kamala Harris. If the Haydens pay back the money they owe — Gledhill said she wasn’t sure of the exact amount — and abide by the other conditions of the plea, the civil case will be dropped, she said. The criminal case never went to trial.

The deal also involves 180 days of custody time for Kurt Hayden, but it’s unclear how much time he would actually serve, she added. Details will all be worked out at the June 14 sentencing hearing in Superior Court Judge Frank Ochoa’s courtroom.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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