We’ve had numerous stories here on this part of the Asbestos.net about contractors who were caught illegally removing asbestos when they had no training, no certification, and no real knowledge or protective equipment. On the other hand, Cleve A. George and Dylan C. Starnes owned and operated their own licensed, certified asbestos removal companies–yet still managed to run afoul of the law. What happened?
George and Starnes were hired by the Virgin Islands Housing Authority to perform asbestos abatement in an aging building located in the Donoe Housing Community, a low-income housing development located on the island of St. Thomas. According to the USDOJ report, George and Starnes were found guilty on 15 counts involving the improper and illegal removal of asbestos from the building in question, having failed to follow established safety procedures and thus exposing residents and workers to asbestos fibers. In addition, both defendants lied when making statements regarding air quality monitoring at the worksite. To give you some idea of just how slowly the wheels of justice turn sometimes, the asbestos violations in question took place in 2001.
George and Starnes were convicted on 30 June 2005 after a trial that lasted only two weeks; yet neither defendant was sentenced until months later. Starnes was sentenced over two years after the trial ended; he is currently serving a 33-month prison sentence, to be followed by three years of probation. George’s sentence was not handed down until 26 February 2008. He was given three years’ probation and was ordered to pay expenses related to “baseline X-rays” for exposed workers. Ronald J. Tenpas, who is the Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources of the USDOJ, said that the sentences “should serve as a warning to those in the industry that profiting at the expense of the community will not pay off and disregarding these safe removal methods will have serious consequences.” William Lometti, a special agent who heads up the EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division out of New York City, said that “…the defendant’s criminal acts put the public at risk. Today’s sentence shows that we take this seriously, and will prosecute others who violate environmental laws.”