Regional Director of Califco, LLC, a Property Management Company, is Sentenced to 12 Months and 1 Day in Federal Prison for Violating the EPA’s Clean Air Act
Defendants Ordered to Pay for Medical Monitoring for Victim-Workers
in the Asbestos Removal Project
DALLAS — Jonathan Isaac Shokrian, 29, who served as a Regional Director at Califco, LLC, with oversight of the company’s business operations in Texas, was sentenced yesterday afternoon on a felony conviction related to an asbestos removal project. Chief U.S. District Judge Sidney A. Fitzwater sentenced Shokrian to 12 months and 1 day in federal prison and ordered him to pay a $25,000 fine following his guilty plea in June 2013 to one count of failure to notify under the Clean Air Act. His father, Elias Shokrian, Califco’s President and CEO, appeared today on behalf of the corporation, which has paid a $500,000 fine, for the same offense. Both defendants were ordered to pay for medical monitoring for victim-workers. Today’s announcement was made by U.S. Attorney Sarah R. Saldaña of the Northern District of Texas.
During the pronouncement of sentencing, Chief Judge Sidney A. Fitzwater acknowledged the danger to the public health from asbestos exposure and the importance of adherence to EPA standards for its proper removal.
“This office is committed to holding those accountable who willfully violate federal laws designed to protect us from exposure to toxic materials,” said U.S. Attorney Saldaña.
Califco is a property management company headquartered in Beverly Hills, California; it has a regional office located on North Story Road in Irving, Texas. Califco owns and operates several commercial properties in the Dallas area, including Plymouth Park Shopping Center on North Story Road in Irving and Crest Plaza Shopping Center on South Lancaster Road in Dallas.
The Clean Air Act authorizes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to establish standards to prevent or limit the emission of hazardous air pollutants into the atmosphere. The EPA has enacted regulations under the Clean Air Act that control the removal, handling and disposal of asbestos.
“There is no safe level of exposure to asbestos,” said Ivan Vikin, Special Agent in Charge of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in Texas. “Asbestos can cause cancer and other serious respiratory diseases and it must be handled legally and safely. The defendants ordered their workers to remove asbestos-containing materials illegally, putting them at great risk. This case should serve notice that EPA and its partner agencies will prosecute anyone who ‘cuts corners’ by avoiding the costs of handling or disposing of asbestos properly.”
In 2008, Califco and Jonathan Shokrian contracted with a specialized asbestos abatement contractor to remove asbestos from an old movie theater in the Crest Plaza Shopping Center. That abatement was conducted in compliance with all federal, state and local regulations and was completed in October 2008.
Approximately one month later, Jonathan Shokrian decided to conduct a renovation of the abandoned former Fazio’s department store in the Plymouth Park Shopping Center. Rather than hiring a professional asbestos abatement contractor, as Califco had done on its Crest Plaza Project, Shokrian attempted to save money by employing two day laborers to remove ceiling tile and floor tile and mastic from the Fazio’s building, even though he knew these materials contained asbestos.
While Califco provided the day laborers with masks, respirators and other tools to facilitate the removal of the asbestos-containing material, the masks and respirators were not adequate to protect the workers from the asbestos fiber. Shokrian did not inform the day laborers on the site, or the Califco-employed maintenance worker, that there was asbestos in the tile and mastic being removed. Neither Shokrian nor any other Califco employee notified any of the other commercial tenants of the Plymouth Park Shopping Center that asbestos-containing materials were being removed from the Fazio’s building.
In mid to late February 2009, day laborers, under Shokrian’s supervision, began using large amounts of gasoline to remove the remaining asbestos-containing floor tile mastic in the Fazio’s building. On February 27, 2009, after responding to a call regarding the overwhelming smell of gasoline in the area around the Plymouth Park Shopping Center, the Irving Fire Department ordered the evacuation of the shopping center and a portion of a nearby residential neighborhood because of the concentration of gasoline fumes in the Fazio’s building.
The EPA and the Texas Department of State Health Services conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Errin Martin prosecuted and Assistant U.S. Attorney Melissa Childs coordinated the fine collection.
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