Buffalo Man Pleads Guilty to Clean Air Act Violation Related to the Kensington Towers Project
BUFFALO, NY—U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul announced today that Rai Johnson, 35, of Buffalo, New York, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Court Judge Richard J. Arcara to violating the Clean Air Act asbestos work practice standards. The charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, a fine of $250,000, or both.
“Today’s conviction means that all defendants who worked directly on the Kensington Towers asbestos removal project—and who intentionally violated federal environmental laws while doing so—have now been brought to justice,” said U.S. Attorney Hochul. “This office will not permit any company or person—including public officials—to jeopardize the health and well being of the community through their violation of federal law.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron J. Mango, who is handling the case, stated that the defendant was a supervisor at Johnson Contracting of WNY, Inc., an asbestos abatement company that was hired to conduct asbestos abatement activities at six buildings at the Kensington Towers Apartment Complex, located at 1827 Fillmore Avenue in Buffalo. In a pre-abatement asbestos survey, each building at Kensington Towers was found to contain 63,000 square feet of regulated asbestos-containing material. The asbestos abatement project lasted from June 2009 to January 2010.
During the asbestos abatement of building A-1, Johnson and employees working under his direction violated the Clean Air Act asbestos work practice standards by: (i) failing to adequately wet regulated asbestos during stripping and removal operations; (ii) failing to ensure that regulated asbestos remained wetted until placed in leak-tight containers; and (iii) causing regulated asbestos to be dropped down holes cut through the floors in Building A-1.
Rai Johnson is the sixth defendant to plead guilty as part of the Kensington Towers asbestos abatement project. Ernest Johnson and JMD project monitors Evan Harnden, Chris Coseglia, Henry Hawkins, and Brian Scott have also been convicted. Charges are still pending against current and former public officials responsible for certifying the project’s compliance with applicable laws and regulations, including Donald Grzebielucha, William Manuszewski, and Theodore Lehmann. The remaining defendants are expected to go on trial May 13, 2014. The fact that a defendant has been charged with a crime is merely an accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.
The plea is the culmination of an investigation on the part of special agents of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-Criminal Investigation Division, under the direction of Acting Special Agent in Charge, Vernesa Jones-Allen; special agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; special agents of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-Office of Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Christina Scaringi; and Investigators of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Police, BECI, under the direction of Captain David Bennett. Additional assistance was provided by the New York State Department of Labor, Asbestos Control Bureau.
Sentencing is scheduled for August 18, 2014, 2014 at 1:00 p.m. before Judge Arcara.