Trained, certified asbestos workers command top money, and rightfully so. Unfortunately, some less cautious and ethical individuals are tempted to cut corners when it comes to asbestos abatement. However, as John Chick and Ernie DeCaro of Cayuga County, New York, are discovering, trying to save money by “cutting corners” can be quite costly. The story started out in February 2006 with the routine replacement of a boiler in the office building of the Cayuga Board of Elections. When asbestos insulation was discovered, Chick, a county employee, should have stopped the work immediately. Instead, according to the indictment, he ordered that the asbestos be removed, even though the work-release inmates assigned to the job were not trained nor properly equipped. State and federal officials began an investigation into the job when they received a tip from a whistle blower. The story came out in the summer of 2006, and health authorities closed down the BOE building because of high levels of asbestos fibers in the air.
Shortly afterwards, more than 30 people filed suit against the county over possible exposure. John Chick was indicted by a federal grand jury in December of 2006 on 10 counts of illegal asbestos removal and failure to follow safety regulations. Two days later, Chick was arrested when he allegedly threatened to kill the whistleblower. In January 2007, John Chick pleaded guilty to violating the federal Clean Air Act. Nine months later, the case took a bizarre twist when DeCaro, former Buildings and Grounds Superintendent for Cayuga County and Chick’s supervisor, admitted that he knew of the illegal asbestos removal, yet failed to stop the work. DeCaro said that he told Chick “not to disturb the system that was there,” then alerted a local official, George Fearon, about the situation. Nothing was done about the situation, and DeCaro took no further actions to stop the illegal asbestos removal. Fearon now may be called to testify in the case. Meanwhile, presiding Judge Frederick J. Scullin, Jr., advised DeCaro to retain legal counsel. Chick says that he was acting under orders from his supervisors. He faces up to five years in prison if he is convicted.