Mt. Lebanon Real Estate Developer Sentenced for Illegally Removing Asbestos from Former Westinghouse Facility
PITTSBURGH, Pa. – A resident of Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania, was sentenced in federal court for violating the Clean Air Act, United States Attorney Scott W. Brady announced today.
United States District Judge Joy Flowers Conti sentenced Vikas Jain, 48, to one month of imprisonment, followed by three years of supervised release that will include nine months of home detention.
In connection with the defendant’s guilty plea and sentencing, the Court was advised that 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 the defendant acknowledged, he sought to redevelop the Westinghouse Facility and surrounding property for commercial and residential mixed-use purposes.
The defendant further admitted that, prior to completing the purchase of the Westinghouse Facility, he 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, leased space at the Westinghouse Facility to third-party tenants, including television production companies. For the most part, however, the Westinghouse Facility remained unused and 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, 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, as the defendant admitted, beginning no later than approximately February 1, 2017, and continuing until February 28, 2017, he 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. 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 conducted the removal of ACM without proper protective clothing or adequate respirators. Once removed, ACM debris 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. As the defendant admitted, the contents of the dumpster, including trash bags containing ACM, were subsequently taken to a local landfill that was not qualified to receive asbestos-contaminated waste.
Finally, the defendant admitted that, after local Churchill authorities and ACHD investigators learned of the illegal asbestos abatement, he 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. At no time did the defendant inform ACHD that the grinders he presented for subsequent inspection had been cleaned of ACM or otherwise were not the same ones that had been used in the Westinghouse Facility.
Assistant United States Attorney Eric G. Olshan prosecuted 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.