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D.C. inspectors admit accepting bribes to ignore asbestos threat


Two former Washington, D.C. environmental inspectors pleaded guilty to taking $20,000 in bribes to ignore violations of asbestos-removal regulations at a building renovation site.

 

Joe L. Parrish and Gregory A. Scott, air-quality inspectors for the District of Columbia Department of the Environment, could face more than two years in prison and fines of up to $50,000.

 

Parrish and Scott were arrested by the FBI on September 1, 2011. The two men, who were responsible for inspecting and monitoring asbestos-removal projects, told a contractor in charge of the demolition and renovation of a 10-story building on P Street SW that they planned to report numerous violations of federal law.

 

According to the Department of Justice, the inspectors and the contractor then negotiated a deal to withhold the report in exchange for $10,000.

 

The contractor reported the scheme, however, and a week later a government informant hired by the building’s managers set up a meeting with Parrish and Scott. At the meeting, the two men said their report on asbestos violations could lead to $300,000 in fines and possible jail sentences. But, the inspectors said, they were willing to “burn” their report in exchange for $20,000. Parrish and Scott accepted $2,500 each as a down payment.

 

On September 2, 2011, Parrish and Scott met again with the informant, who paid the inspectors another $15,000 just before federal agents stepped in and arrested them.

 

Asbestos was used to make building materials and insulation from the 1920s to the 1970s, when it became one of the first hazardous air pollutants regulated by Clean Air Act. A 2004 study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine said 1.3 million workers in the construction and building maintenance industries are exposed to dangerous levels of asbestos on the job.

 

About 10,000 people die from asbestos-related diseases in the United States every year, including 2,000-3,000 cases of mesothelioma, a rare invariably fatal disease that is difficult to diagnose and treat.