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Press Release

Sherman Man Charged with Violating Clean Air Act, Making False Statements Related to Asbestos Removal

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Central District of Illinois

Springfield, Ill. – A Sherman, Ill., man, Joseph J. Chernis, IV, is scheduled to appear for arraignment on June 7, 2016, in federal court, to face charges that he violated the Clean Air Act and made false statements related to asbestos removal at the former Pillsbury Mills / Cargill facility in Springfield. The indictment, returned by the grand jury on May 5, 2016, charges Chernis, 33, with illegal and unsafe asbestos removal and with making false statements during a hearing in the Circuit Court of the Seventh Judicial District, Sangamon County.

The indictment alleges that in October 2014, Chernis hired an untrained individual to illegally remove dry asbestos pipe insulation from the facility located at 1525 East Phillips Street. From October 2014 to August 2015, dry asbestos-containing insulation was allegedly cut and stripped from pipes inside four buildings at the facility, including the structure known as the Dryer building. The asbestos debris was stuffed into approximately 300 garbage bags and at least two open-topped cardboard boxes, and left inside vacant buildings at the facility. The indictment further alleges that in late October 2014, Chernis caused the Dryer building to be demolished with more than 1,000 linear feet of asbestos pipe insulation remaining inside the structure.

The indictment further charges Chernis with two counts of making false statements during a hearing on Oct. 1, 2015, in the Circuit Court of the Seventh Judicial District, Sangamon County, in connection with a civil action filed against him by the Illinois Attorney General’s Office at the request of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. The indictment alleges Chernis falsely represented that he did not know who had performed the demolition work at the Pillsbury Mills / Cargill facility, when he knew that he had personally participated in the demolition work and had solicited others to assist him. In addition, Chernis allegedly falsely represented that another individual was responsible for the work activity by the untrained individual hired to remove dry asbestos pipe insulation when he knew that he had hired and directed the individual’s activity at the facility.

Under provisions of the Clean Air Act, the EPA has promulgated rules, regulations and requirements to control the removal, handling and disposal of asbestos, a hazardous air pollutant. Any owner or operator of a renovation or demolition activity which involves removal of specified amounts of asbestos-containing material must comply with the EPA regulations. 

The indictment specifically charges Chernis with four violations of the Clean Air Act and the federal asbestos regulations from Oct. 1, 2014, to Aug. 31, 2015:  failure to have at least one on-site representative, trained in federal asbestos regulations, present during the removal of regulated asbestos-containing material; failure to adequately wet all regulated asbestos-containing material and ensure that it remained wet until collected and contained or treated in preparation for disposal; failure to remove all regulated asbestos-containing material from a building before beginning any activity that would break-up, dislodge or similarly disturb regulated asbestos-containing material; and failure to deposit all asbestos-containing waste material as soon as was practical at a waste disposal site operated in accordance with the federal asbestos regulations. 

If convicted, the statutory penalty for each count charged in the indictment, violation of the Clean Air Act (four counts) and making a false statement (two counts), is a maximum of five years in prison and a term of supervised release of up to three years following any term of imprisonment, as well as a fine of up to $250,000.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Katherine Boyle and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney James Cha. The charges are the result of investigation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Criminal Investigation Division.

Members of the public are reminded that an indictment is merely an accusation; the defendant is presumed innocent unless proven guilty.

Updated May 10, 2016