WASHINGTON – Three men who conspired to violate Clean Air Act workplace safety standards when they demolished a Chattanooga, Tenn., factory containing large amounts of asbestos were sentenced today in federal court, announced Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resource Division, and William C. Killian, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee. U.S. District Judge Curtis Collier sentenced David Wood, James Mathis and Donald Fillers, and the Watkins Street Project LLC for their roles in the conspiracy.
Fillers was sentenced to serve 48 months in federal prison, pay a $20,000 fine and serve three years of supervised release; Mathis was sentenced to serve 18 months in federal prison and three years of supervised release; Wood was sentenced to serve 20 months in federal prison and three years of supervised release; and Watkins Street Project was ordered to pay a $30,000 fine. In addition, the defendants were ordered to pay $27,899 in restitution to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Chattanooga Department of Public Works and the Chattanooga Hamilton County Air Pollution Control Board for expenditures associated with the emergency response and clean-up of the former Standard Coosa Thatcher plant in Chattanooga.
A jury convicted these defendants on Jan. 27, 2012, of conspiracy and criminal violations of the Clean Air Act, as well as obstruction of justice in relation to salvage and demolition activities at the former Standard Coosa Thatcher plant. More specifically, the evidence proved that the defendants entered into a year-long scheme in which the plant was illegally demolished while still containing extensive amounts of asbestos. Additionally, the defendants hired day laborers and paid them low wages to improperly remove asbestos-containing materials without following federal regulations that were intended to keep the asbestos, a known carcinogen, from becoming airborne where it could be inhaled.
“These sentences send a strong message that criminal violations of environmental laws designed to protect human health from exposure to hazardous substances, such as asbestos, will not be tolerated,” said U.S. Attorney Killian. “Those individuals who choose to place profit over compliance with our nation’s environmental laws will be vigorously prosecuted and brought to justice.”
“Exposure to asbestos can cause serious, even fatal, illnesses so it must be removed safely and in accordance with the law,” said Maureen O’Mara, Special Agent in Charge of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in Tennessee. “The defendants in this case not only lied to authorities and tried to cover up their actions, but they also hired homeless and untrained workers to perform the illegal asbestos removal activities, endangering both the employees and the greater community. Today’s sentences show that those who break the law and put the public at risk to make illegal profits will face serious consequences.”
Witness testimony established that dust from the salvage and demolition activities frequently wafted onto neighboring properties. The evidence also showed the defendants attempted to cover up their illegal activities by falsifying documents and Wood lied to federal authorities investigating the case.
This case was investigated by Special Agents of the EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division and investigators with Chattanooga-Hamilton County Air Pollution Control Bureau. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew T. Morris and Todd W. Gleason, Trial Attorney with the Environmental Crimes Section of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.