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Freedom president asks court to get paid

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The president of the company responsible for the Jan. 9 chemical leak has asked a judge to let him get paid during the company's bankruptcy case.

Gary Southern said, in a filing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court on Saturday, that he hasn't gotten paid since Jan. 19. The company, Freedom Industries, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Jan. 18. Chapter 11 allows a company to reorganize and continue operating, but its attorney has said the company is winding down.

Southern said in his filing that he worked between 12 and 16 hours a day for 46 consecutive days -- from Jan. 10, the day after the spill, to Feb. 26. Since March 3, he said, he has worked 10 to 12 hours a day Monday through Friday.

He has had to attend daily meetings with state and federal officials conducting investigations into the leak. Southern also must continue talks with vendors, according to the court documents.

Southern became president of Freedom on Jan. 1, at an annual salary of $230,000. He is asking U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Pearson to pay him until a chief restructuring officer is appointed to the case.

Crude MCHM leaked from the company's tank farm on Barlow Drive into the Elk River on Jan. 9, fouling the drinking water of 300,000 West Virginians.

Earlier this month, Pearson approved Freedom's request to hire a company to help collect and preserve its electronic documents, and respond to requests from the state Department of Environmental Protection in its daily site supervision.

The documents from current and former Freedom officials must be collected to comply with subpoenas issued by U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin's office and other agencies investigating the company.

There are about 240 unsecured creditors to whom Freedom owes money. Many of the unsecured creditors are those who filed lawsuits against the company before its bankruptcy filing. There are at least 30 lawsuits against Freedom.

The company has a hearing Tuesday morning. It isn't clear whether Southern's request will be addressed.

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.


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