The U.S. Justice Department and the federal Environmental Protection Agency have reached an agreement with a Houston company on alleged violations of the federal Clean Air Act. Photo via Getty Images

Officials have reached an agreement with a Houston-based company over alleged violations of the federal Clean Air Act.

Under a proposed settlement with the U.S. Justice Department and the federal Environmental Protection Agency, Derichebourg Recycling USA Inc. will prevent the release of ozone-depleting refrigerants and non-exempt substitutes from refrigerant-containing items at its 10 scrap metal recycling facilities in Texas and Oklahoma. Derichebourg also will pay a $442,500 penalty.

Derichebourg Recycling USA’s parent company is France-based Derichebourg SA, an operator of scrap metal recycling facilities.

A complaint filed in federal court alleges Derichebourg Recycling USA failed to recover refrigerant from appliances and motor vehicle air conditioners before disposal, and failed to verify with the supplier that refrigerant had been properly recovered before delivery.

The complaint focuses on alleged Clean Air Act violations at three Derichebourg scrap metal recycling facilities in Houston: 7501 Wallisville Rd., 8202 W. Montgomery Rd., and 1 Wharf St. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) inspections in 2018 led to the complaint.

Derichebourg operates three other facilities in the Houston area: 3515 Almeda Genoa Rd. and 6648 N. Eldridge Pkwy., both in Houston, and 13319 FM 1764 in Santa Fe.

“To continue protecting stratospheric ozone, we need companies like Derichebourg to comply with the Clean Air Act when recycling appliances and motor vehicles containing harmful refrigerants,” Todd Kim, an assistant U.S. attorney general, says in a January 7 news release.

The refrigerant, R-12, is one of the most destructive ozone-depleting substances and has a global warming potential greater than 10,000 times the power of carbon dioxide, according to the news release.

“Refrigerants that are not captured properly can be damaging to the earth’s ozone layer and are known to increase greenhouse gasses, which leads to climate change,” says Larry Starfield, acting assistant administrator of the EPA.

The agreement, called a consent decree, still requires approval from a federal judge in Houston. The consent decree is signed by two EPA attorneys and the CEO of Derichebourg Recycling USA, Philippe Leonard.

The feds have charged Robert Brockman with the largest-ever fraud case in history. Photo viaBrockman Foundation

Houston billionaire charged in largest tax fraud case in U.S. history

BROCKMAN CHARGED

Federal prosecutors charged Houston-area billionaire Robert Brockman on Thursday, October 15 with a $2 billion tax fraud scheme in what they say is the largest such case against an American.

Department of Justice officials said at a news conference in San Francisco that Brockman, 79, hid the money over 20 years through complicated schemes including filing false returns and setting up secret accounts all over the world to hide and launder money. They also charged him with investor fraud.

Brockman is CEO of Reynolds and Reynolds Co. of Dayton, Ohio.

Prosecutors also announced that Robert Smith, founder and chairman of investment firm Vista Equity Partners, will cooperate in the investigation and pay $139 million to settle a tax probe.

"Complexity will not hide crime from law enforcement. Sophistication is not a defense to federal criminal charges," said David L. Anderson, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of California. "We will not hesitate to prosecute the smartest guys in the room," he said.

The indictment was unsealed Thursday and Brockman is scheduled to make an appearance in San Francisco.

A spokeswoman for Reynolds and Reynolds told the New York Times that the company "is not alleged to have engaged in any wrongdoing, and we are confident in the integrity and strength of our business," and noted that Brockman's actions occurred "outside of his professional responsibilities."

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For more on this story, including video, visit our news partner ABC13.

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Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

big impact

Neurodegeneration is one of the cruelest ways to age, but one Houston family is sharing its wealth to invigorate research with the goal of eradicating diseases like Alzheimer’s.

This month, Laurence Belfer announced that his family, led by oil tycoon Robert Belfer, had donated an additional $20 million to the Belfer Neurodegeneration Consortium, a multi-institutional initiative that targets the study and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

This latest sum brings the family’s donations to BNDC to $53.5 million over a little more than a decade. The Belfer family’s recent donation will be matched by institutional philanthropic efforts, meaning BNDC will actually be $40 million richer.

BNDC was formed in 2012 to help scientists gain stronger awareness of neurodegenerative disease biology and its potential treatments. It incorporates not only The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, but also Baylor College of Medicine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

It is the BNDC’s lofty objective to develop five new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders over the next 10 years, with two treatments to demonstrate clinical efficacy.

“Our goal is ambitious, but having access to the vast clinical trial expertise at MD Anderson ensures our therapeutics can improve the lives of patients everywhere,” BNDC Executive Director Jim Ray says in a press release. “The key elements for success are in place: a powerful research model, a winning collaborative team and a robust translational pipeline, all in the right place at the right time.”

It may seem out of place that this research is happening at MD Anderson, but scientists are delving into the intersection between cancer and neurological disease through the hospital’s Cancer Neuroscience Program.

“Since the consortium was formed, we have made tremendous progress in our understanding of the molecular and genetic basis of neurodegenerative diseases and in translating those findings into effective targeted drugs and diagnostics for patients,” Ray continues. “Yet, we still have more work to do. Alzheimer's disease is already the most expensive disease in the United States. As our population continues to age, addressing quality-of-life issues and other challenges of treating and living with age-associated diseases must become a priority.”

And for the magnanimous Belfer family, it already is.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a podcast with the founder of a new venture firm, a former astronaut and recent award recipient, and a health care innovator with fresh funding.

Zach Ellis, founder and managing partner of South Loop Ventures

Zach Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that South Loop Ventures plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston has a lot of the right ingredients for commercialization and scaling up companies, so when Zach Ellis moved to town to stand up a venture capital firm that made investments in diverse founders, he decided to go about it in an innovative way.

South Loop Ventures, which Ellis launched two years ago, invests in pre-seed and seed-stage startups across health care, climatetech, aerospace, sports, and fintech. While the first handful of investments, which have already been made, are into Houston-based companies, Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that the firm plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale.

"Any investor wants to feel like they are looking at the best possible investment opportunities in which to deploy capital," Ellis says on the show. "So that's reason No. 1 to cast your net as widely as possible.

"At the same time, you want to give any investment that you make greatest chances of success," he continues. "The biggest factor of success outside of the team and the capital you give them, is the customers that they can call upon. In bringing targeted companies to Houston or connecting them with Houston, you introduce the opportunity for them to achieve rapid scale and work with world-class partners very efficiently." Read more.


Toby R. Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton Health Box

Dr. Toby Hamilton has secured $10 million to grow his company. Photo via tmc.edu

A Houston company that is working on a value-based model for primary care has fresh funding to support its mission.

Hamilton Health Box announced the completion of a $10 million series A funding round led by 1588 Ventures with participation from Memorial Hermann Health System, Impact Ventures by Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Texas Medical Center Venture Fund, and the Sullivan Brothers.

The company, founded in 2019 by Dr. Toby R. Hamilton, will use the funding to fuel its expansion into rural areas to help assist those living in Health Professional Shortage Areas, or HPSAs. Read more.

Ellen Ochoa, former astronaut and center director at the NASA's Johnson Space Center

Ellen Ochoa was recognized for her leadership at NASA Johnson and for being the first Hispanic woman in space. Photo via NASA

Two astronauts recently received Presidential Medals of Freedom from President Joe Biden for their leadership in space.

Ellen Ochoa, the former center director and astronaut at the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Jane Rigby, senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, were honored at the White House on May 3.

Ochoa spent 30 years with NASA, which included being the 11th director of JSC, deputy center director of JSC, and director of Flight Crew Operations. She served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, and became the first Hispanic woman in space. She flew four more times to space with STS-66, STS-96, STS-110, and more.

“I’m so grateful for all my amazing NASA colleagues who shared my career journey with me,” Ochoa says in a NASA news release. Read more.

Houston health care institutions receive $22M to attract top recruits

coming to Hou

Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine has received a total of $12 million in grants from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas to attract two prominent researchers.

The two grants, which are $6 million each, are earmarked for recruitment of Thomas Milner and Radek Skoda. The Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) announced the grants May 14.

Milner, an expert in photomedicine for surgery and diagnostics, is a professor of surgery and biomedical engineering at the Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic at the University of California, Irvine and the university’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

In 2013, Milner was named Inventor of the Year by the University of Texas at Austin. At the time, he was a professor of biomedical engineering at UT. One of his major achievements is co-development of the MasSpec Pen, a handheld device that identifies cancerous tissue within 10 seconds during surgical procedures.

Skoda is a professor of molecular medicine in the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel and the University Hospital Basel, both in Switzerland. He specializes in developing treatments for myeloproliferative neoplasms, which are a group of blood diseases including leukemia.

Other recruitment grants provided by the institute to Houston-area organizations are:

  • $4 million for recruitment of Susan Bullman to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She was an assistant professor at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, where she studied the connection between microbes and cancer.
  • $4 million for recruitment of Oren Rom to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Rom is an assistant professor of pathology and translational pathobiology at Louisiana State University Shreveport.
  • Nearly $2 million for recruitment of Lauren Hagler to conduct RNA cancer biology at Texas A&M University. She is a postdoctoral scholar in biochemistry at Stanford University.

The institute also awarded grants to five companies in the Houston area:

  • $4.7 million to 7 Hills Pharma for development of immunotherapies to treat cancer and prevent infectious diseases.
  • $4.5 million to Indapta Therapeutics for the Phase 1 trial of a cell therapy for treatment of multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
  • $2.75 million to Bectas Therapeutics for development of antibodies and biomarkers to overcome a type of resistance T-cell checkpoint therapy.
  • $2.69 million to MS Pen Technologies for development of technology that differentiates between normal tissue and cancerous tissue during surgery.
  • $2.58 million to Crossbridge Bio for development of an antibody-drug combination to treat certain solid tumors.