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Buffalo man pleads guilty to clean air act violation involving kensington towers project

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 30, 2014

     BUFFALO, N.Y. – U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul announced today that Ernest Johnson, 42, of Buffalo, N.Y., pleaded guilty before U.S. District Court Judge Richard J. Arcara, to violating the Clean Air Act asbestos work practice standards. The charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, a fine of $250,000 or both.

Assistant U. S. Attorney Aaron J. Mango, who is handling the case, stated that the defendant was the president of Johnson Contracting of WNY, Inc., an asbestos abatement company that was hired to conduct asbestos abatement activities at six buildings at the Kensington Towers Apartment Complex, located at 1827 Fillmore Avenue in Buffalo. In a pre-abatement asbestos survey, each building at Kensington Towers was found to contain 63,000 square feet of regulated asbestos containing material. The asbestos abatement project lasted from June 2009 to January 2010. 

During the asbestos abatement of building A-1, the defendant, and employees working under his direction, violated the Clean Air Act asbestos work practice standards by failing to adequately wet Regulated Asbestos during stripping and removal operations and by failing to ensure that Regulated Asbestos remained wetted until placed in leak-tight containers. The defendant also caused Regulated Asbestos to be dropped down holes cut through the floors in Building A-1.

Johnson is the fifth defendant to plead guilty as part of the Kensington Towers asbestos abatement project. In addition to Ernest Johnson, other charged defendants include Rai Johnson, JMD project monitors Evan Harnden, Chris Coseglia, Henry Hawkins and Brian Scott, and current and former public officials responsible for certifying the project’s compliance with applicable laws and regulations, including Donald Grzebielucha, William Manuszewski, and Theodore Lehmann. The remaining defendants are expected to go on trial May 13, 2014 before U.S. District Court Judge Richard J. Arcara. The fact that a defendant has been charged with a crime is merely an accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

The plea is the culmination of an investigation on the part of Special Agents of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency - Criminal Investigation Division, under the direction of Acting Special Agent-In-Charge, Vernesa Jones-Allen; Special Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Special Agents of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development - Office of Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent-In-Charge Christina Scaringi; and Investigators of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Police, BECI, under the direction of Captain David Bennett. Additional assistance was provided by the New York State Department of Labor, Asbestos Control Bureau.

Sentencing is scheduled for August 15, 2014, 2014 at 1:00 p.m. before Judge Arcara.