Florida Couple Pleads Guilty to Scheme to Evade $42 Million in Duties for Illegally Importing and Selling Plywood
WASHINGTON – A federal jury in Utica, N.Y. has found Certified Environmental Services Inc. (CES); two of its managers, Nicole Copeland and Elisa Dunn; and one of its employees, Sandy Allen, guilty of conspiring to aid and abet Clean Air Act violations, commit mail fraud, and defraud the United States, the Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today. The defendants were also convicted of substantive Clean Air Act violations and mail fraud counts. CES and Elisa Dunn were also convicted of making false statements to federal law enforcement.
As alleged in the indictment, CES (an asbestos air monitoring company and accredited laboratory), and several of its senior employees, together with Aapex Environmental and Paragon Environmental (asbestos removal companies, having already pled guilty) conspired over the course of nearly a decade to falsify lab results used to prove that asbestos removal was done properly. In numerous instances, asbestos removal companies represented that homes, schools and other buildings were free of asbestos contamination when asbestos debris remained behind. Owners of local homes and buildings were unaware that asbestos had been left behind from sloppy abatement work because air quality reports were falsified by CES and its supervisors and employees. Due to the false lab reports, people that lived or worked in these buildings were exposed to asbestos, putting them at risk of developing cancer or other asbestos-related diseases. EPA investigators have notified affected building owners of the asbestos problem so proper clean up can be conducted.
"Because of the dishonest and illegal practices of this company, many people were left unaware for years of their possible exposure to asbestos," said Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice. "Companies and employees will be fully investigated and prosecuted when they put the public’s health at risk by violating environmental laws."
"Falsifying asbestos reports and air quality data is a serious crime and undermines our nation’s efforts to protect human health and the environment," said Cynthia Giles, Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "Exposure to asbestos can be fatal, and the conviction by a jury shows that the American people will not tolerate illegal activity that puts the public at risk of cancer or other serious respiratory diseases."
The conspiracy and substantive Clean Air Act and false statements counts of the indictment each carry a maximum term of incarceration of five years and a fine of $250,000. The mail fraud counts each carry a maximum term of incarceration of 20 years. CES faces a possible maximum fine of $7.5 million, and restitution to all victims. Nicole Copeland faces a maximum possible sentence of 110 years in jail and a fine of $3,000,000. Elisa Dunn faces a maximum possible sentence 40 years in jail and a fine of $1,250,000. Sandy Allen faces a maximum possible sentence 50 years in jail and a fine of $1,000,000. Sentencing has been set for February 25, 2011 at 10 a.m. in Utica, NY before the Honorable David N. Hurd.
Today’s conviction is the latest in a series of asbestos removal cases that EPA and the Justice Department have brought to trial. For example, in June 2010, the owners of Kodiak Construction Service were sentenced to a combined total of more than 13 years in prison after being found guilty of numerous asbestos related violations. Another example is the four year sentence and requirement to provide restitution to victims of more than $850,000 for the operator of J & W Construction Inc. that violated the Clean Air Act through illegal asbestos removal and disposal activities.
Asbestos has been determined to cause lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma, an invariably fatal disease. EPA has determined that there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos.
This case was investigated by Special Agents of the EPA and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig A. Benedict of the Northern District of New York and trial attorneys Jessie M. Alloway and Todd W. Gleason of the Environmental Crimes Section, U.S. Department of Justice.
More information on asbestos: www.epa.gov/asbestos/ .