News and Press Releases

Removed Asbestos Without Proper Permits or Safeguards

October 13, 2010

WOLFGANG “TITO” ROEMPKE, owner of Auburn Valley Cars, pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court in Seattle to Failing to Properly Remove Asbestos – a felony violation of the Clean Air Act. ROEMPKE was indicted in March 2010, in connection with the illegal removal and disposal of regulated asbestos containing material during the demolition of a building he owns in Auburn, Washington. The building, formerly known as the “Old Town and Country Diner” on Auburn Way North, was demolished in late August and early September 2008. In the plea agreement, ROEMPKE admits he ignored an assessment that asbestos needed to be safely removed from the building prior to demolition. Instead, ROEMPKE had two workers from his car dealership demolish the building with no safeguards to contain and properly dispose of the asbestos. ROEMPKE faces up to five years in prison when sentenced by U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour on January 7, 2011.

Under the terms of the plea agreement, ROEMPKE will pay a $50,000 criminal fine, and a $50,000 community service payment to the National Environmental Education Foundation, a Congressionally mandated foundation established and dedicated to advancing environmental education. The judge is free to sentence ROEMPKE to any prison term allowed by law. The maximum penalties allowed under the Clean Air Act are up to five years of imprisonment, a $250,000 criminal fine, and up to three years of supervised release.

“Exposure to asbestos can cause cancer and serious respiratory illness,” said Tyler Amon, Special Agent-in-Charge of EPA's Office of Criminal Enforcement in Seattle. “Cutting corners when it comes to handling asbestos is not just a health hazard, but in this case was a criminal act that put the defendant's employees at risk.”

According to the plea agreement, in May 2008, a certified inspector hired by ROEMPKE collected 80 samples of suspected asbestos containing materials from throughout the building on Auburn Way North. In June, the inspector submitted his report to ROEMPKE revealing widespread asbestos contamination. Ten different types of building materials were found to contain asbestos above the regulatory threshold, including: acoustical popcorn ceiling texture, twelve inch ceiling tile mastic, orange peel textured gypsum wallboard system, exterior window glaze, built up roofing, vent sealant, wall paneling mastic, troweled-on textured gypsum wallboard, floor tile, and wall paneling mastic. The materials contained between 2% and 10% asbestos. ROEMPKE subsequently solicited bids from two different companies to lawfully remove the asbestos. Both bids were approximately $20,000. Believing those costs to be too high, ROEMPKE chose instead to hire co-defendant Michael Neureiter to find a second inspector to reassess the building. In mid-July 2008, Neureiter contacted co-defendant Bruce Thoreen and asked him to conduct an asbestos survey of the facility. He instructed Thoreen to conduct the survey in such a way as to minimize the amount of asbestos contamination. Thoreen was a certified asbestos building inspector, authorized to prepare the required survey. Thoreen inspected the building and produced a written report falsely reporting that the building contained no regulated asbestos containing materials. In August 2008, Neureiter removed salvage materials from the building but did not remove any asbestos containing materials.

In late August 2008, individuals employed by ROEMPKE in his car dealership used heavy equipment to demolish the facility. The Defendant did not disclose to the employees that regulated asbestos containing materials were present in the facility at the time of demolition. The prescribed work practice standards applicable to removing, packaging, transporting and disposing of the regulated asbestos containing material were not followed. The demolition debris was handled as ordinary construction debris.

Co-defendants Neureiter and Thoreen have already pleaded guilty. Neureiter will be sentenced December 10, 2010, for conspiracy to violate the Clean Air Act. Thoreen will be sentenced on October 29, 2010 for making a false statement.

The case was investigated by the Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division (EPA-CID) with assistance from the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Jim Oesterle and Katheryn Frierson.

For additional information please contact Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office, at (206) 553-4110 or Emily.Langlie@USDOJ.Gov.

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