Recent Cases Prompt Justice Department and EPA to Issue Nationwide Warning to Homeless Shelters

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A federal grand jury indictment was unsealed in Madison, Wisconsin today charging three men with conspiring to illegally remove dangerous asbestos from an aging Wisconsin manufacturing plant. The three employed untrained homeless men to do the work. The indictment was handed up by the grand jury on April 2, 1998. "Knowingly removing asbestos improperly is criminal. Exploiting the homeless to do this work is cruel," said Attorney General Janet Reno. "To those who are improperly removing asbestos and threatening our health for a few dollars, we say this: we are looking for you, we are going to find you, and we are going to prosecute you." "Today's indictment sends a clear message: This Administration will prosecute to the full extent of the law anyone who violates our nation's environmental and public health laws," said EPA Administrator Carol Browner. "We especially will call to account those who place at risk the health and safety of vulnerable people." "The National Coalition for the Homeless is alarmed and horrified that in now several states, people are both exploiting and putting in harm's way, homeless individuals eager for employment opportunities," said Mary Ann Gleason, Executive Director of the National Coalition for the Homeless. "At the suggestion of the Justice Department and EPA, the Coalition is launching a national alert to notify individuals who are homeless, and non-profit organizations across the country who provide employment placement, shelter, and other services to homeless people to be on high alert to these scams." The sixteen count indictment charges Buddy Vernon Frazier, 35; Chance Calvin Gaines, 24; and James Edward Bragg, 24 with conspiracy and other crimes relating to the illegal removal of asbestos materials. The three men were charged with violating the federal Clean Air Act and fraudulently using social security account numbers to obtain identification documents for untrained asbestos workers. If convicted, the three defendants each face up to five

years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines on the conspiracy charge, and additional penalties for the other counts. Asbestos is regulated under the Clean Air Act as a hazardous air pollutant. Studies have shown that exposure to asbestos can cause life-threatening diseases, including asbestosis; lung cancer; and a rare cancer of the thin membrane lining of the lungs, chest, abdomen, and heart, known as mesothelioma. Under Clean Air Act regulations, asbestos containing building materials must be removed from demolition and renovation sites, without releasing asbestos fibers into the environment. Among other things, workers must wet asbestos insulation before stripping the material from pipes, and must seal the asbestos debris in leak-tight containers while still wet, to prevent the release of asbestos dust. The laws of most states have specific requirements for asbestos workers. Wisconsin law requires that all asbestos workers be trained in these and other applicable rules and to carry identification cards indicating that they have received such training. The indictment charges Frazier, Gaines, and Bragg with transporting workers recruited from the Community Kitchen, a provider of services for the homeless in Chattanooga, Tennessee, to Wisconsin, obtaining false identification cards for the workers who had received no training, and knowingly causing them to strip asbestos insulation without wetting it as required by federal regulations. The charges relate to the removal of nearly two miles of asbestos insulation in September, 1996, from the former Weyerhaeuser Door & Stile Manufacturing Building in Marshfield, Wisconsin. "This case is significant because the offenses alleged show a disregard for the environment and public health and a willingness to exploit vulnerable people for a few dollars," said Peggy Lautenschlager, United States Attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin.

Federal prosecutors have brought several recent cases involving similar facts. On April 1, 1998, a federal court in Seattle, sentenced Howard Angell to two years for improperly removing asbestos from a building in Seattle. Angell used homeless men and day laborers to do the work.

On April 2, 1998, Stephen P. Draper plead guilty in federal court in Concord, New Hampshire, to improperly removing asbestos from a old asbestos manufacturing plant. At least one of the workers was homeless. Draper is scheduled to be sentenced on July 20, 1998.

On January 7, 1998, a federal judge in Miami, sentenced two men, Arthur Newman and Lawrence Rothman, to five months in prison for illegally stripping asbestos materials from an industrial warehouse in Miami. The two used homeless men to do the work.

On September 11, 1997, a federal court in Connecticut sentenced Jacobv Benshimon, to 21 months in prison for illegally strip asbestos insulation from pipes beneath a large apartment complex in Groton, Connecticut. Benshimon recruited day-laborers to do the job.

On November 26, 1996, a federal court in Tampa sentenced a local businessman, Jay Davidson Foley, to six months in prison for illegally removing asbestos from various portions of an historic hotel in Sarasota, Florida. The court also imposed a $235,000 fine on Foley's business, Foley Holdings Corporation. Foley used unskilled temporary workers to do the work.

On February 8, 1996, a federal court in Philadelphia sentenced a New Jersey real estate developer, Mohammed Mizani, to 18 months in prison for illegally removing asbestos from a 14-story commercial building in Philadelphia. Two other men were also charged and sentenced in connection with this case. Mizani recruited a crew of men from a nearby homeless shelter to perform the work.

In response to these and similar cases, the Department of Justice and the EPA have joined with the National Coalition for the Homeless to issue an advisory to be posted in homeless shelters around the country. The advisory warns about the dangers of asbestos in building materials and cautions workers to be on guard for employers who offer work tearing out old asbestos materials without providing workers with adequate notice, equipment, or training. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development also will distribute the advisory to homeless shelters and to transitional housing for the homeless. This case was investigated by the Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigations Division and the Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General, with assistance from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services. This case is being prosecuted by United States Attorney's Office in Madison and the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. An indictment represents charges brought to a federal grand jury. All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty at trial beyond a reasonable doubt. If you suspect someone is hiring workers to remove asbestos improperly, please call EPA at 1-800-368-5888. ###



Federal prosecutors also have brought the following related cases involving the illegal removal of asbestos by untrained workers:

On April 6, 1998, in federal district court in Anchorage, Mountain Aviation of Sitka, Alaska, and the company's operations manager Mark Hackett plead guilty to improperly removing asbestos. Hackett hired untrained teenagers to clean up asbestos debris from the improper asbestos removal.

Hackett and the company have not yet been sentenced. As part of a plea agreement, the company has agreed to pay a $50,000 fine and to establish a trust fund for medical monitoring of the teenagers.

On March 30, 1998, in federal district court in Seattle, Gundhart Fleischer, president of Voyager's Landing Corporation, plead guilty improperly stripping asbestos from the Seayue Theater in Blaine, Washington. He hired a 19 year old itinerant to do the work. Sentencing is scheduled for June 12, 1998.

On March 10, 1998, a federal grand jury in Pittsburgh indicted David Farley, supervisor of Red Bank Valley Schools in New Bethlehem, Pennsylvania for improperly removing asbestos from the Red Bank Valley High School. Farley hired untrained workers, including high-school age workers to do the work.

On October 3, 1997, a federal court in Clarksburg, West Virginia, sentenced David Marshall, a contractor and licensed asbestos-removal operator to fifteen months in prison for demolishing an apartment building without first properly removing asbestos materials. Marshall hired three young untrained workers to do the demolition. As part of a supervised-release term, the court also prohibited Marshall from further participation in demolition contracting and from renewing his asbestos removal license.

On September 26, 1997, a jury in Brooklyn convicted Isaac Itzkowitz for improperly removing asbestos insulation from hundreds of feet of piping in an apartment building in Brooklyn. Itzkowitz hired untrained workers to rip out the asbestos. Itzkowitz has not yet been sentenced.