Mt. Lebanon Real Estate Developer Charged with Illegally Removing Asbestos from Former Westinghouse Facility
PITTSBURGH, Pa. – A resident of Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania, was charged in federal court with violating the Clean Air Act, United States Attorney Scott W. Brady announced today.
Vikas Jain, 47, was charged by criminal Information with one count of knowingly violating work practice standards of the Clean Air Act.
"As western Pennsylvanians, we cherish our abundant natural resources, and we take seriously our responsibility to protect them," said U.S. Attorney Brady. "In this case, an unscrupulous developer is charged with illegally removing and dumping asbestos in violation of the Clean Air Act, thereby compromising not only our region’s air quality, but also the health of the workers hired to perform the removal activity."
According to the Information, the defendant controlled various business entities focusing primarily on residential and commercial real estate development and management. In approximately May 2012, the defendant, through one such entity, purchased the George Westinghouse Research and Technology Park (the Westinghouse Facility), a multi-building commercial and industrial complex located on approximately 150 acres in Churchill, Pennsylvania. The Westinghouse Facility was built between approximately the 1950s and 1970s, and it comprised over one million square feet of testing, laboratory, and office space across more than a dozen buildings. As alleged, the defendant sought to redevelop the Westinghouse Facility and surrounding property for commercial and residential mixed-use purposes.
The Information further alleges that, prior to completing the purchase of the Westinghouse Facility, the defendant obtained the results of an earlier environmental assessment of the property, which identified the presence of asbestos-containing materials (ACM) in, among other substances, floor tile and pipe insulation located throughout the complex. Between approximately May 2012 and February 2017, the defendant, through entities he controlled, allegedly leased space at the Westinghouse Facility to third-party tenants, including television production companies. For the most part, however, the Westinghouse Facility remained unoccupied.
In connection with one licensing agreement in approximately 2015, the defendant obtained two asbestos-abatement permits from the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) allowing for the proper removal of ACM in portions of two of the buildings at the Westinghouse Facility. The removal was completed by a licensed abatement contractor. Later, as alleged, in early 2017, the defendant, through a contractor working on the redevelopment project, obtained a proposal from a different licensed abatement entity to inspect another building that the defendant intended to demolish. The proposal was never consummated.
Rather, according to the Information, beginning no later than approximately February 1, 2017, and continuing until February 28, 2017, the defendant directed various workers to remove previously unabated ACM from two buildings at the Westinghouse Facility, including large quantities of ACM floor tiles, mastic, and pipe insulation. As alleged, the defendant further directed a worker to rent floor grinders, which the workers then used to remove and pulverize ACM floor tiles and mastic. The defendant did not apply for or obtain an ACHD permit for the abatement activity, and workers allegedly conducted the removal of ACM without proper protective clothing or adequate respirators. Once removed, ACM debris allegedly was placed in black trash bags and taken by workers via a pick-up truck to a dumpster located outside of one of the defendant’s residential rental properties. The contents of the dumpster, including sealed trash bags containing ACM, were subsequently taken to a local landfill that was not qualified to receive asbestos-contaminated waste.
Finally, the Information alleges that, after local authorities in Churchill and ACHD investigators learned of the illegal asbestos abatement, the defendant took steps to conceal the nature and extent of the removal activity, including by causing grinders to be removed from the Westinghouse Facility, cleaned, and, as to two grinders, returned to the equipment rental company prior to inspection by ACHD.
The defendant faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison, a fine of $250,000, or both. Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the actual sentence imposed would be based upon the seriousness of the offense and the prior criminal history, if any, of the defendants.
Assistant United States Attorney Eric G. Olshan is prosecuting this case on behalf of the government, with assistance from Perry D. McDaniel, Regional Criminal Enforcement Counsel of the Environmental Protection Agency. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and Environmental Protection Agency’s Criminal Investigation Division conducted the investigation of the defendant.
A criminal Information is an accusation.
A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. The filing of an Information generally indicates that the defendant intends to enter a guilty plea.