United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner
Eastern District of California
Three Men Plead Guilty to Asbestos Abatement Violations at Former Air Force Base in Atwater
|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE||
Monday, March 11, 2013
Docket #: 1:10-cr-285-LJO
FRESNO, Calif. — Joseph Cuellar, 73, of Fresno, Calif.; Patrick Bowman, 46, of Los Banos, Calif.; and Rudolph Buendia III, 50, of Planada, Calif., each pleaded guilty today to a violation of the asbestos work-practice standards of the National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.
According to the indictment, Joseph Cuellar was the administrative manager of Firm Build Inc., Patrick Bowman was its president, and Rudolph Buendia was its construction project site supervisor. From September 2005 to March 2006, Firm Build operated a demolition and renovation project in the former Castle Air Force Base in Atwater, California. They were to turn Building 325 into a mechanic training center for the Merced County Board of Education. The defendants hired local high school students from the Workplace Learning Academy in Merced to perform some of the renovation.
According to court documents, the students and other employees removed and disposed of approximately 1,000 linear feet of pipe insulation and additional tank insulation which the defendants knew contained regulated asbestos-containing material without utilizing proper protective equipment (in the form of Tyvek suits, full-face respirators, bootie or footwear coverings, gloves, hair hoods or caps, and shower equipment) or taking protective measures (wetting the asbestos containing materials, sealing the asbestos debris in secure plastic bags, using negative air pressure in the building) in violation of federal law. Asbestos became airborne during this illegal asbestos abatement. In performing the asbestos abatement project in this manner, defendants knowingly exposed Firm Build employees, Workplace Learning Academy students, as well as other subcontractors and their employees to hazardous airborne asbestos.
U.S. Attorney Wagner said: “Exposing student workers and subcontractors at a construction site to hazardous asbestos without any precautions, and doing so in order to cut corners and save money, is more than reckless — it is criminal. The guilty pleas entered today should stand as a warning that those who disregard environmental laws in the pursuit of profit will be prosecuted, and will face prison time. I am grateful for the support of the investigations bureau of the Merced County District Attorney’s Office, and of Cal-EPA and the California Department of Justice, in the course of the investigation and prosecution of this case.”
The defendants are scheduled to be sentenced by United States District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill on June 3, 2013. The plea agreements contemplate sentences of two years and three months in prison for Bowman and Cuellar and two years in prison for Buendia. The actual sentence will be determined by the court at the sentencing hearing. Parole has been abolished in the federal system, and the defendants will be required by law to serve at least 85% of the prison time imposed at sentencing.
This case is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, assisted by Cal-EPA, the investigations bureau of the Merced County District Attorney, and the California Department of Justice. Assistant United States Attorneys Samuel Wong and Melanie Alsworth are prosecuting the case.
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