If you thought legal work related to asbestos is limited to those late-night television ads asking if you (or anyone you know) suffer from mesothelioma, you’d be wrong. There is apparently a niche criminal defense practice out there, representing people and companies that improperly handle the toxic substance. So, this week is a round-up of several asbestos-related criminal environmental cases.
If asbestos is not your thing, stick around to the bottom of the post where I talk about an interesting case where an individual was sentenced for smuggling old electronics out of the country instead of recycling them here. That’s a no-no.
United States v. Torriero and DeSimone (N.D.N.Y.). Donald Torriero and Julius DeSimone pleaded guilty to violations of the Clean Water Act, the Superfund statute, wire fraud and defrauding the United States. Torriero was sentenced to 36 months in prison and DeSimone to five years of probation. The two men illegally dumped asbestos-contaminated construction debris on a 28-acre piece of land. The land was located on the Mohawk River in upstate New York. The two men also concealed the illegal dumping, including by fabricating a permit from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation and forging a government official’s name on the permit.
United States v. Nicastro, Mazza and Mazza & Sons (N.D.N.Y.). In a case related to the Torriero case, three other defendants were convicted after a three-week trial of conspiring to violate the Clean Water Act, Superfund statute and defraud the United States. Mazza & Sons, owned by Dominick Mazza, processed the construction debris and stored it on Cross Nicastro’s property, before transporting it to the 28-acre property near the Mohawk River. Mazza was sentenced to 51 months in prison and three years’ supervised release; Nicastro was sentenced to 33 months in prison and three years’ supervised release; Mazza & Sons was sentenced to pay a $100,000 fine and $494,000 in restitution and clean-up costs.
United States v. Davis (W.D. Mich.). Anthony Michael Davis bought a former paper mill in Otsego, Michigan to salvage valuable scrap material. The building contained large boilers and turbines. He knew the material contained asbestos because, well, there were signs saying “Hazardous Substance Asbestos,” and he had also been warned by an agent of the former owner. Even so, he had workers remove the asbestos without using the right safety measures in order to save money. He was sentenced to 12 months in prison for violations of the Clean Air Act.
You Guessed It, Asbestos
United States v. Shokrian (N.D. Tex.). Jonathan Isaac Shokrian was a Regional Director at Califco, LLC. Califco is a property management company based in California and its CEO is Shokrian’s father, Elias Shokrian. Shokrian (the younger) oversaw the company’s Texas operations. The company was demolishing an abandoned department store, knowing that it contained asbestos. It did not hire a licensed asbestos removal company but instead hired day laborers to do the work. According to court documents, Califco provided the workers with “masks, respirators and other tools” to help with removal but the government claimed that these efforts were not sufficient to protect the workers. The problem was discovered when the workers used gasoline to remove the asbestos and the shopping center had to be evacuated. Shokrian pleaded guilty to failure to notify under the Clean Air Act and his father pleaded guilty on behalf of the company to the same charge. Sentencing is set for September 2013.
Change of Pace—Exporting Electronic Waste
United States v. Richter and Executive Recycling Inc. (D. Colo.). Brandon Richter was the owner and CEO of Executive Recycling, Inc. (ERI). Richter and his company were convicted in December 2012 after an 11-day trial for wire and mail fraud, and also for illegal disposition of electronic waste, smuggling and obstruction of justice. ERI would collect and recycle household and business electronic waste. It was registered with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and assured customers that it was disposing of the waste in an environmentally-safe manner. A large part of the material to be recycled was composed of cathode ray tubes (CRTs) which is the glass display on electronic devices such as computers. Rather than properly handling the waste in the United States, though, they shipped it overseas (often to China) for dumping. Dumping in China created environmental hazards there.
Richter was sentenced to 30 months in prison and three years of supervised release. The company was placed on three years’ probation and had to pay a$4.5 million fine. In mid-July 2013, Executive Recycling’s VP of Operations, Tor Olson, was sentenced to 14 months in prison.
Unbelievable that violations like this one by Richter was discovered and then the fine and sentencing was lengthy. Following the correct procedures for disposal of these materials is certainly important and can mean the ruin of a company. Imagine what happens in China every day? gk