EPA and the U.S. Justice Department announced yesterday that a federal jury in Utica, New York has found Certified Environmental Services, Inc. (CES), two of its managers, Nicole Copeland and Elisa Dunn and one of its employees, Sandy Allen, guilty of conspiring to aid and abet Clean Air Act violations, commit mail fraud, and defraud the United States. The defendants were also convicted of substantive Clean Air Act violations and mail fraud counts. Defendants CES and Elisa Dunn were convicted of making false statements to federal law enforcement.
“Falsifying asbestos reports and air quality data is a serious crime and undermines our nation’s efforts to protect human health and the environment,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "Exposure to asbestos can be fatal and the conviction by a jury shows that the American people will not tolerate illegal activity that puts the public at risk of cancer or other serious respiratory diseases.”
“Because of the dishonest and illegal practices of this company, many people were left unaware for years of their possible exposure to asbestos,” said Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice. “Companies and employees will be fully investigated and prosecuted when they put the public’s health at risk by violating environmental laws.”
As alleged in the indictment, CES, its employees, and a supervisor from a former asbestos abatement company, Paragon Environmental Construction, conspired over the course of nearly a decade to falsify lab results used to prove that asbestos removal was done properly. In numerous instances asbestos removal companies represented that homes, schools, and other buildings were free of asbestos contamination when asbestos debris remained behind. Owners of local homes and buildings were unaware that asbestos had been left behind from sloppy abatement work because air quality reports were falsified by CES. Due to the false lab reports, people that lived or worked in the buildings were potentially exposed to asbestos, putting them at risk for developing cancer. EPA investigators have notified affected building owners of the asbestos problem so proper cleanup can be conducted.
The conspiracy and substantive Clean Air Act and false statements counts of the indictment each carry a maximum possible term of incarceration of five years and a fine of $250,000. The mail fraud counts each carry a maximum possible term of incarceration of 20 years and similar fines.
The conviction is the latest in a series of asbestos removal cases that EPA and the Justice Department have brought to trial. For example, in June 2010, the owners of Kodiak Construction Service were sentenced to a combined total of more than 13 years in prison after being found guilty of numerous asbestos related violations. Another example is the four year sentence and requirement to provide restitution to victims of more than $850,000 for the operator of J & W Construction, Inc that violated the Clean Air Act through illegal asbestos removal and disposal activities.
Asbestos has been determined to cause lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma, a fatal disease. EPA has determined that there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos.