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Environmental Firm, Managers Guilty of Fraud

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

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A federal jury has found a New York environmental services company and three employees guilty of conspiring for nearly 10 years to falsify lab results and air-quality data.

The jury convicted Certified Environmental Services Inc. (CES), managers Nicole Copeland and Elisa Dunn, and employee Sandy Allen of conspiring to aid and abet Clean Air Act violations, commit mail fraud, and defraud the United States, according to a release by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Justice Department, which prosecuted the case.

The defendants were also convicted of substantive Clean Air Act violations and mail fraud counts. In addition, CES and Dunn were convicted of making false statements to federal law enforcement.

The conspiracy and substantive Clean Air Act and false-statements counts each carry up to five years in prison and a fine of $250,000. The mail fraud counts each carry a maximum possible prison term of 20 years and similar fines.

CES did not reply to a request Wednesday (Oct. 20) for comment on the verdicts, which were returned Oct. 13.

10-Year Conspiracy

On its website, CES describes itself as a “full-service New York State Department of Health accredited environmental laboratory (NYSDOH ELAP ID# 11246) and environmental consulting firm.”

Services include NYSDOH-accredited laboratory analyses of water, soil, oil and bulks; above-ground and underground storage tank project management; environmental sampling and monitoring; subsurface site investigations; and Phase I & II environmental site assessments, according to the company.
 
Officials said CES, its employees and a supervisor from a former asbestos abatement company, Paragon Environmental Construction, had conspired for 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,” prosecutors said. “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.”

The false lab reports allowed owners and occupants to be potentially exposed to asbestos, putting them at risk for developing cancer, prosecutors said.

‘A Serious Crime’

“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.”

Added Assistant Attorney General Ignacia S. Moreno:  “Because of the dishonest and illegal practices of this company, many people were left unaware for years of their possible exposure to asbestos. Companies and employees will be fully investigated and prosecuted when they put the public’s health at risk by violating environmental laws.”

Broader Enforcement

The conviction is the latest in a series of asbestos removal cases that EPA and the Justice Department have brought to trial. In June, 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.

Last year, the owner and an employee of J & W Construction, Inc., a New York asbestos abatement company, pleaded guilty and were sentenced for violating the Clean Air Act through illegal asbestos removal and disposal activities. Owner John Wood was sentenced to serve four years in prison and paid restitution to victims of $854,166.06. Employee Curtis Collins was sentenced to two years in prison.

EPA has determined that there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos, which has been determined to cause lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma, a fatal disease.

   

Tagged categories: Air quality; Criminal acts; Environmental Protection; Health and safety; Laws and litigation; Violations

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