WASHINGTON— Two demolition and salvage companies and three of their respective owners and supervisors were indicted today by a federal grand jury in Chattanooga, Tenn., the Justice Department announced.
The indictment describes a year-long scheme in which the former Standard Coosa Thatcher plant in Chattanooga was illegally demolished while still containing large amounts of asbestos. The indictment goes on to allege that any asbestos that was removed from the plant prior to demolition was removed illegally, scattered in open debris piles, and left exposed to the elements in the vicinity. The indictment also alleges the efforts owners and supervisors made to cover up their illegal activities by falsifying documents and lying to federal authorities.
The eleven-count indictment charges the defendants with conspiracy to defraud the United States and to violate the Clean Air Act. The two companies and three individuals are also charged with violating the Clean Air Act’s "work-practice standards" intended to prevent releases of asbestos, making false statements to special agents of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and obstructing justice.
The companies and individuals who have been indicted are:
- Watkins Street Project LLC, Chattanooga, Tenn., a land-holding and salvage company
- Mathis Construction Inc., Chattanooga, Tenn., a demolition company
- Donald Fillers, an owner of Watkins Street Project LLC
- James Mathis, an owner of Mathis Construction Inc.
- David Wood, a supervisor for Watkins Street Project LLC
The conspiracy and substantive Clean Air Act, and false statements counts of the indictment each carry a maximum possible term of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000, twice the gross gain or twice the gross loss to a victim. The obstruction of justice count of the indictment carries a maximum possible term of 20 years in prison and similar fines.
Asbestos has been determined to cause lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma, an invariably fatal disease. The Environmental Protection Agency has determined that there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos.
The allegations in the indictment are mere accusations and all persons are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
This case is being investigated by special agents of the EPA 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.