After a two-day trial, one of Chicagoland’s premier pool builders was found not guilty of illegally dumping hazardous chemicals.

Barrington Pools Inc. and owners Dale Overson and Louise Donahue were cleared of the felony charges May 10 in Cook County (Ill.) Circuit Court. They were accused of knowingly disposing of hazardous waste, which carries a maximum five-year prison sentence and potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.

“I’m very thankful for the judge’s decision,” said Donahue, executive vice president of the South Barrington, Ill., firm. “Personally, this was extremely hard on me.”

The business and its principals were charged in September 2010 after an anonymous tip, believed to have come from disgruntled former employees, alleged that muriatic acid was being discharged onto company property during the cleaning of pool filters. 

Investigators with the state Environmental Protection Agency visited the business multiple times between July and August to search the premises and collect and test samples.   

“[Barrington’s prosecution] was based on an overreaction to what agents thought had occurred out there,” said defense attorney Leigh Roadman, a partner with the Chicago-based firm of Martin, Brown, Sullivan, Roadman & Hartnett. “[The judge] couldn’t conclude that [Barrington’s owners] knowingly did this.”

The victory also was welcome news for the Master Pools Guild, a network of custom pool builders, of which Barrington is a longtime member. Mark Reed, the guild’s chairman of the board, offered support for his colleagues.

“We’re happy for them, and we want to encourage them to get back into the groove,” said Reed, president of Memphis Pool Supply, a Pool & Spa News Top Builder based in Memphis.

“From the time we first heard about it, they were forthright and unfailingly professed their innocence,” he added.

But the case also has served as a cautionary tale for company owners, who may be held accountable for the actions of their employees in the field, he said. It’s prompted Reed and others to re-examine their own processes and procedures, including chemical disposal and permitting requirements.           

Barrington was listed as the nation’s 26th largest pool builder in Pool & Spa News’ 2010 Top 50 Builders issue. Founded in 1973, the company reported total residential construction revenue of nearly $8.4 million in 2009.