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Case Is First Federal Prosecution For Violation Of Lead Hazard Warnings

WASHINGTON, D.C. - A Washington, D.C.-area landlord was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, Md., to incarceration for two years for obstructing an investigation by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and making false statements to federal officials, in order to conceal his failure to notify tenants of the presence and hazards associated with lead-based paint. The case is the first-ever criminal prosecution in the United States related to failure to give lead hazard warnings that are required by the federal Lead Hazard Reduction Act of 1992.

David D. Nuyen, 65, of Silver Spring, Md., was also sentenced to pay a fine of $50,000 by Judge Deborah K. Chasanow. As part of his guilty plea, Nuyen has provided all tenants with new notices about lead paint assessments performed by an independent contractor required under the terms of a plea agreement with prosecutors.

Nuyen has owned and managed approximately 15 low-income apartment buildings in the District of Columbia and Maryland. Nuyen admitted that he had notice of actual lead-paint hazards in one of his apartment buildings from District of Columbia lead inspectors, who informed him that they found lead in the building. However, Nuyen failed to disclose actual and potential lead hazards before leasing to tenants.

"Lead poisoning perils have long been known, and laws exist to protect people especially children from being exposed to lead hazards," said Tom Sansonetti, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "This case exemplifies our commitment to enforce the federal lead disclosure requirements to protect the public and our children from these unnecessary health risks."

"This case sends a message to landlords that they have a responsibility to warn their tenants of known lead hazards in their apartments,"said Thomas M. DiBiagio, United States Attorney for the District of Maryland. "This office will aggressively prosecute those who lie and engage in obstructive conduct to avoid the requirements of the Lead Hazard Reduction Act."

The Lead Hazard Reduction Act requires landlords to give tenants warnings, which can be done by using a standard disclosure form, about actual and potential lead paint hazards present in the property, and an EPA pamphlet about how to minimize the dangers to children. The law also directs landlords to document their compliance with the law by keeping lead disclosure forms and tenant signatures on file. Nuyen attended classes on the Act in 1997 and 1998 to fulfill his requirements to continue to be licensed as a realtor in Maryland and Virginia.

In September 1998, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) contacted Nuyen as part of a federal initiative to determine whether he was complying with the Lead Hazard Reduction Act. Nuyen had no lead paint disclosure forms at that time, but he arranged a subsequent meeting with HUD officials, in November 1998, in which he presented the agency with false and backdated forms at his office in Hyattsville, MD.

Nuyen admitted that he sought to obstruct the HUD investigation by backdating his signature, backdating tenant signatures, and directing tenants to backdate forms by entering the date they moved into their apartments, rather than the date they were actually warned about health risks, which was after they had moved in, according to a factual statement admitted in court. In some cases, the tenant signatures were signed by Nuyen's resident property managers. In the factual statement, Nuyen also admitted to asking tenants to sign false documents and to giving perjured testimony to a federal grand jury.

In addition to the obstruction of justice and false statements charges in Maryland, Nuyen was also sentenced on a companion case in the District of Columbia charging that he failed to provide the required lead warning and lead hazard pamphlet in violation of the Lead Hazard Reduction Act. He was also sentenced for a separate false statement to HUD in an application for approval to originate home mortgages that was uncovered during the investigation.

Lead poisoning is a significant health risk for young children. Although ingesting lead is hazardous to all humans, children under six years of age are at the greatest risk of lead poisoning because their bodies are still developing and because ordinary hand-to-mouth activity brings them into frequent contact with lead in paint chips, dust and soil. Lead adversely affects virtually every system of the body, and it can impair a child's central nervous system, kidneys and bone marrow. At high levels can cause coma, convulsions and death. Lead poisoning is especially acute among low-income and minority children living in older housing.

The investigation was conducted by the HUD Office of Inspector General, the EPA Criminal Investigation Division and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The case was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Maryland, U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia and the Environmental Crimes Section of the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division.