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Asbestos Removal Training Fraud "Cleaned Up"

It Takes a Team to Protect the Environment
Asbestos Removal Training Fraud "Cleaned Up"

01/09/04

On January 8, a Virginia environmental services company and one of its employees were sentenced for making false statements about the way they procured asbestos training certificates that permitted their company employees to remove asbestos from Langley Air Force Base and a NASA Research Center, both in Hampton, Virginia.

Why is that such a big deal? Because asbestos is now known to be a hugely dangerous substance that, released into the air, can cause cancer, lung disease, and many other illnesses.

It wasn't always so. And that's the problem. Asbestos is a mineral that is fabulously strong, insulates well, and resists fire and corrosion. AND it is fibrous and can be woven into cloth or insulation bats. The emperor Charlemagne, in fact, is said to have amazed his guests by throwing an asbestos tablecloth into the fire to launder it. So, given these outstanding qualities, asbestos began to be used widely by the construction industry in the U.S. around 1900 as insulation for homes, offices, boats, just about any kind of building. Not until some 70 years later was the true danger of asbestos discovered. And that's when its removal began to be regulated by government.

How do you make sure asbestos is removed properly? There's really only one way: carefully training people as asbestos specialists. In Virginia, for example, that means special training companies are permitted to issue Training Certificates to individuals that attest they have, according to state and federal government requirements, completed stringent training courses and passed a test demonstrating knowledge of the subject matter.

F&M Environmental Technology, Inc. was one such training company, owned by Frankland Babonis.

The case of the "certificate for a price" scam. In February 2000, the FBI's Washington Field Office received allegations that F&M was selling its training certificates for a price—no need to take any or all training; no need to pass the test—clearly posing a threat that untrained specialists would improperly release asbestos into the air that could be inhaled by unsuspecting victims. This allegation was confirmed by another made to the Criminal Investigative Division of EPA—and a case was opened.

In no time, agents discovered that F&M had allegedly sold certificates to people working on projects at the Pentagon, the Departments of Defense and Transportation, GSA, NASA, state and local agencies, and a number of school systems... and the law enforcement arms of NASA, Defense, the Airforce, the Army, the Navy, and the Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation joined the case.

In February 2001, F&M and Mr. Babonis pled guilty and were sentenced. As part of his plea, Mr. Babonis agreed to help track down all the companies who sought to obtain fraudulent training certificates—quite a number since he estimates that over a four-year period some 70 percent of all the training certificates he issued were fraudulently sold, not properly earned.

Seven companies have been convicted to date, including Macsons, Inc.—the company sentenced this month. And the investigation continues....

As we said, sometimes it takes a team to protect an environment, law enforcement agencies working together as partners.