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Public officials among those indicted for illegal asbestos project

Nine people, including three building inspectors, have been indicted in Buffalo, NY for their roles in an alleged conspiracy to illegally remove and dispose of asbestos during a major demolition project.


In a 23-count indictment, the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Western District of New York also charged two companies with felonies relating to an asbestos abatement project at the Kensington Towers apartment complex. The companies, Johnson Contracting of WNY, Inc. and JMD Environmental, Inc., are accused of falsifying test results, causing hazardous work conditions and instructing workers to leave asbestos-laden material in the buildings knowing that they were to be torn down.


Each charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, a fine of $250,000, or both.


Also indicted were two City of Buffalo building inspectors, Donald Grzebielucha and William Manuszewski, who are accused of filing false final inspection reports certifying that all asbestos had been removed from the buildings. Theodore Lehmann, an inspector with the New York State Department of Labor’s Asbestos Control Bureau, was charged with concealing the improper asbestos abatement.


“The nation’s environmental laws are intended to protect not only people who live

and work near abatement sites, but those employed in the abatement industry itself,” U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul, Jr. said in a statement. “In this case, the Kensington Towers complex is in close proximity to a city neighborhood where people live as well as a hospital, a school and a park.”


According to the indictment, in June 2009, Johnson Contracting was awarded a sub-contract to remove asbestos at Kensington Towers, a six-building complex owned by the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority. An environmental survey had estimated that each building at Kensington Towers contained in excess of 63,000 square feet of hazardous asbestos-containing material.


The indictment alleges that from June 2009 to January 2010, Ernest and Rai Johnson of Johnson Contracting instructed workers to dump asbestos down holes cut through the floors of each building. They also are charged with failing to wet the asbestos, as required by law, and leaving it in open containers for disposal.


The indictment accuses JMD Environmental, the company hired to monitor Johnson Contracting’s work, of failing to conduct air sampling tests and other oversight measures and of falsifying inspection reports. The indictment charged four JMD employees — Evan Harnden, Henry Hawkins, Chris Coseglia and Brian Scott of North Tonawanda.


Exposure to asbestos increases the risk of lung disease, including lung cancer and mesothelioma. The Clean Air Act requires asbestos abatement projects in public buildings to follow “federally established work practice standards,” including protecting workers and properly disposing of asbestos-containing material in EPA-approved containers.


“Exposure to asbestos can be fatal. Its unsafe disposal endangers human health and

can seriously harm the environment,” said William V. Lometti, Special Agent in Charge

of EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division in New York. “The defendants are charged

with conspiring to illegally allow large amounts of asbestos to be removed unsafely in an

attempt to cut costs. Anyone who tries to save money by breaking the law will be

vigorously prosecuted.”

Tags: Legal