WASHINGTON—The owner of a Chattanooga, Tenn., salvage and demolition company, Watkins Street Project LLC, pleaded guilty today in federal court in Chattanooga, Tenn., for conspiring to violate the Clean Air Act and to defraud the United States.
Gary Fillers of Chattanooga, Tenn., pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Collier for the Eastern District of Tennessee to one criminal felony count for conspiring to violate the Clean Air Act’s “work practice standards” related to the proper stripping, bagging, removal and disposal of asbestos.
According to the charges, Fillers and other indicted and unindicted co-conspirators, engaged in a year-long scheme in which substantial amounts of regulated asbestos containing materials was removed from the former Standard Coosa Thatcher Plant without following the Clean Air Act and the regulations governing Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notification requirements; removing all asbestos prior to demolition; and stripping, bagging, removal and disposal of such asbestos.
“Work practice standards under the Clean Air Act are designed to protect workers from the harmful effects of asbestos,” said John C. Cruden, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Conspiring to violate these work practice standards will not be tolerated and those who do can expect to be prosecuted.”
“Exposure to asbestos can cause cancer and other serious respiratory diseases,” said Maureen O'Mara, Special Agent-in-Charge of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in Atlanta. “Those who put the public health at risk will be vigorously prosecuted.”
Fillers faces up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss to the victims. Today’s plea is related to the indictment of Watkins Street Project LLC, Mathis Companies Inc., Donald Fillers, James Mathis and David Wood. All of these defendants pleaded not guilty to related conspiracy, Clean Air Act, false statements and obstruction of justice charges on Sept. 14, 2009. Trial is currently set to begin on Nov.18, 2009, before Judge Collier.
Asbestos has been determined to cause lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma, an invariably fatal disease. EPA has determined that there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos.
This case was investigated by EPA special agents and investigators with Chattanooga-Hamilton County Air Pollution Control Bureau. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew T. Morris and Todd W. Gleason, of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section.