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5th Man Sentenced in NY Asbestos Case

Friday, August 22, 2014

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A supervisor for an asbestos abatement contractor is the latest defendant sentenced for his role in mishandling a major removal project at six public-housing buildings in Buffalo, NY.

Rai Johnson, 35, of Buffalo, who had been convicted of violating the Clean Air Act Asbestos Work Practice Standards, was sentenced to time served (160 days) and two years of supervised release, the FBI announced Tuesday (Aug. 19).

Kensington Towers

Asbestos was to be removed from six buildings. Authorities said that the asbestos left in the buildings risked a major release upon demolition.

The four-year-old scandal has resulted in nine guilty pleas from project monitors, contractors, and current and former public officials responsible for certifying the project's compliance with applicable laws and regulations.

378K Square Feet of Asbestos

The case involved an asbestos abatement project that ran from June 2009 to January 2010 at six buildings at the crumbling Kensington Towers Apartment Complex in Buffalo. Each building contained 63,000 square feet of regulated asbestos-containing material, authorities said.

Rai and Ernest Johnson owned Johnson Contracting of WNY Inc., the contractor hired to complete the job. Johnson and directed the job, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron J. Mango.

Both men directed the job.

In January 2010, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation received an anonymous telephone call indicating that friable asbestos was being mixed with non-friable asbestos in open containers at Kensington Towers. The caller also reported violations of work practice standards for asbestos.

Demoliotion Risks

Because the buildings were about to be demolished, the DEC partnered with special agents of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to investigate. That investigation revealed that substantial quantities of asbestos-containing materials still remained in all six buildings—a situation that authorities said would have created a major asbestos release when the buildings were demollished.

Under the Johnsons' supervision, Mango said, employees:

  • Failed to adequately wet the asbestos during stripping and removal;
  • Failed to ensure that the asbest stayed wet until it was stored in leak-tight containers; and
  • Dropped asbestos through holes cut in the floors of one of the buildings.

Other Defendants

Rai Johnson is the fifth defendant sentenced in the case.

Kensington Towers

State Labor Department and City Hall inspectors all pleaded guilty in the case, as did three project monitors and the asbestos abatement supervisors.

Ernest Johnson was sentenced previously after admitting that his firm dumped the asbestos down the holes and cut other corners that led its release in the neighborhood around the site. Rai Johnson kept falsified logs of the work, authorities said.

Other defendants worked for JMD Environmental, Inc. (JMD), a New York State-certified asbestos project monitor and air-sampling firm. Three project monitors from JMD—Brian Scott, Evan Harnden and Chris Coseglia—have all pleaded guilty in the case and are awaiting sentencing.

Both Johnson Contracting and JMD Environmental were also originally indicted, but the indictments were dismissed when they went out of business.

Also awaiting sentencing are a now-retired state Labor Department inspector and two City Hall inspectors: Theodore Lehman, Donald Grzebielucha and William Manuszewski. The latter two accepted plea agreements in May that allow Grzebielucha to keep his City Hall job; Manuszewski is retired.

The two City Hall inspectors, who were indicted in 2011 on charges of falsifying records, pleaded guilty intead to negligent endangerment under the Clean Air Act and admitted putting other people at risk because of their actions.


Tagged categories: Air quality; Asbestos; Clean Air Act; Contractors; Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); Good Technical Practice

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