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Press Release

Owners & Managers of Former Salvage Operations at Former Textile Plant in Tennessee Sentenced to Prison for Conspiracy Associated with Illegal Asbestos Removal

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer sentenced five people to prison terms in federal court in Greeneville, Tennessee, late yesterday for conspiring to commit Clean Air Act offenses in connection with the illegal removal and disposal of asbestos-containing materials at the former Liberty Fibers Plant in Hamblen County, Tennessee, the Justice Department announced.  A&E Salvage had purchased the plant out of bankruptcy in order to salvage metals which remained in the plant after it ceased operations.

U.S. District Judge Greer sentenced Mark Sawyer, 55, of Morristown, Tennessee, a former manager of A&E Salvage, to the statutory maximum of five years in prison, to be followed by two years of supervised release.  A&E Salvage manager Newell Lynn Smith, 59, of Miami, Florida, was sentenced to 37 months and two years of supervised release.  A&E Salvage Manager Eric Gruenberg, 50, of Lebanon, Tennessee, received a 28-month sentence.  Armida, 56, and Milto DiSanti, 54, of Miami, Florida, each received sentences of six months in prison, to be followed by six months of home confinement.  The judge ordered all the defendants to pay restitution of more than $10.3 million, which will be returned to Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Superfund, which was used to clean up the plant site contamination. 

The sentencing took place over three days and included expert testimony that the exposures of the A&E Salvage workers to asbestos resulted in a substantial likelihood that the workers would suffer death or serious bodily injury as a result of their exposure constituted a risk of death or serious bodily injury.

“These co-conspirators took unacceptable and illegal risks with workers lives and the community’s health,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.  “These significant sentences should send a message that illegal asbestos removal can have serious consequences, including a prison term for those responsible.”

According to court documents, all the defendants pleaded guilty to one criminal felony count for conspiring to violate the Clean Air Act’s “work practice standards” salient to the proper stripping, bagging, removal and disposal of asbestos.  According to the charges, the conspirators, engaged in a multi-year scheme in which substantial amounts of regulated asbestos containing materials were removed the former Liberty Fibers plant without removing all asbestos prior to demolition and stripping, bagging, removing and disposing of such asbestos in illegal manners and without providing workers the necessary protective equipment.  Asbestos has been determined to cause lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma, an invariably fatal disease.  The EPA has determined that there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos. 

“We take our responsibility to protect the environment of East Tennessee very seriously, especially when it involves the health and safety of its residents,” said U.S. Attorney Bill Killian of the Eastern District of Tennessee.  “We will continue to aggressively prosecute those who violate the laws restricting substances which can potentially cause serious diseases.  EPA, TDEC, Senior Trial Attorney Todd Gleason and Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Morris should be commended for their combined efforts which resulted in a successful outcome in this case.”

“Illegal disposal of asbestos endangers human health, plain and simple,” said Special Agent in Charge Maureen O’Mara of EPA’s Criminal Enforcement Program in Tennessee.  “The defendants conspired to violate the Clean Air Act by hiring untrained workers to remove materials, without proper safety equipment, that contained asbestos.  This put not only the workers’ health and safety at great risk, but that of the entire community.  Today’s sentencing demonstrates that EPA and its partner agencies will prosecute those who pollute the environment by breaking the law.”

This case was investigated by Special Agents of the Environmental Protection Agency and individuals from the Tennessee Department of Environmental Conservation.  The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S.  Attorney Matthew T. Morris and Senior Trial Attorney Todd W. Gleason, Environmental Crimes Section of the Department of Justice.

Updated April 3, 2024

Press Release Number: 15-081