Las Vegas Contractors Sentenced To Prison For Release Of Asbestos At Marijuana Grow Facility
LAS VEGAS – Rene Morales and Hector Vasquez were each sentenced to six months in prison yesterday for violating the Clean Air Act during the renovation of a Las Vegas warehouse into a marijuana growing facility. Both men pleaded guilty earlier this year to violating the Clean Air Act by releasing toxic asbestos fibers into the air during the renovation work. Inhalation of airborne asbestos fibers can cause lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma, an invariably fatal disease. Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have determined that there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos.
According to documents filed with the Court, the defendants’ firm Top Rank Builders was hired to renovate the warehouse located at 2310 Western Avenue into a facility suitable for growing marijuana. During the renovation, the defendants caused workers to remove drywall and ceiling texture that the defendants should have known would contain asbestos, without employing any abatement measures. This resulted in the release of asbestos fibers into the air, placing workers and the community in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury from inhalation of the toxic fibers.
The defendants also admitted to lying to investigators about their involvement in the renovation, and to taking steps to cover up the removal by claiming that bags marked “asbestos” were intended for a training exercise rather than disposal of asbestos-containing materials at the warehouse.
“Failure to comply with federally-mandated protocols for asbestos is a serious offense with serious consequences in the District of Nevada,” said United States Attorney Jason M. Frierson for the District of Nevada. “These crimes endanger the lives of workers, tenants, and the community at large. Our Office will continue to work with our federal, state and local partners to hold those seeking to cut corners on asbestos remediation accountable.”
“The defendants knowingly ignored regulations on the safe management of asbestos, putting workers and the public at risk,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Benjamin Carr of EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division in Nevada. “The sentences demonstrate that the EPA and our law enforcement partners will pursue and prosecute those who intentionally violate environmental laws and endanger our communities.”
Special agents of the EPA and employees of the Clark County Department of Air Quality investigated the case. Senior Trial Attorney Cassandra Barnum of ENRD’s Environmental Crimes Section and Assistant United States Attorney Jean Ripley for the District of Nevada prosecuted the case.