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Press Release

Sentences Handed Down For Asbestos Abatement Violations At Former Air Force Base In Atwater, Calif.

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of California

FRESNO, Calif. —Patrick Bowman, 47, of Los Banos, Calif.; and Rudolph Buendia III, 51, of Planada, Calif., were sentenced today for violating the asbestos work-practice standards of the National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced. United States District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill sentenced Bowman to 27 months in prision, and Buendia to 24 months in prison. 

Sentencing for Joseph Cuellar is currently scheduled for June 16, 2014.  A restitution hearing as to all three defendants is also scheduled for June 16.

According to court documents, Joseph Cuellar was the administrative manager of Firm Build Inc., Patrick Bowman was its president, and Rudolph Buendia was its construction project site supervisor. From September 2005 to March 2006, Firm Build operated a demolition and renovation project in the former Castle Air Force Base in Atwater, California. They were to turn Building 325 into a mechanic training center for the Merced County Board of Education. The defendants hired local high school students from the Workplace Learning Academy in Merced to perform some of the renovation.

According to court documents, the students and other employees removed and disposed of approximately 1,000 linear feet of pipe insulation and additional tank insulation which the defendants knew contained regulated asbestos-containing material without utilizing proper protective equipment (in the form of Tyvek suits, full-face respirators, bootie or footwear coverings, gloves, hair hoods or caps, and shower equipment) or taking protective measures (wetting the asbestos containing materials, sealing the asbestos debris in secure plastic bags, using negative air pressure in the building) in violation of federal law. Asbestos became airborne during this illegal asbestos abatement. In performing the asbestos abatement project in this manner, defendants knowingly exposed Firm Build employees, Workplace Learning Academy students, as well as other subcontractors and their employees to hazardous airborne asbestos.

U.S. Attorney Wagner said: “Exposing student workers and subcontractors at a construction site to hazardous asbestos in order to cut corners and save money is not just reckless.  The sentences imposed today should remind all who may be involved in handling such materials that disregarding federal environmental laws can result in prison time. I am grateful for the support of the investigations bureau of the Merced County District Attorney’s Office, and of Cal-EPA and the California Department of Justice, in the course of the investigation and prosecution of this case.”

“There is no safe level of exposure to asbestos,” said Jay M. Green, Special Agent-in-Charge of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in California.  “Directing student workers to illegally remove demolition debris containing asbestos, knowing they had neither the training nor the proper personal protective equipment, threatens their health and safety.   EPA and its partner agencies will continue to protect those vulnerable to these crimes by vigorously prosecuting those who place profit above the public health and the environment.”

This case was the product of an investigation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, assisted by Cal-EPA, the investigations bureau of the Merced County District Attorney, and the California Department of Justice. Assistant United States Attorneys Samuel Wong and Melanie Alsworth prosecuted the case.

Updated April 8, 2015

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