By Eric Freedman
A federal judge in Rochester, New York, has fined a developer $15,000 and sentenced him to probation and community service for violating federal asbestos work standards.
U.S. District Judge Frank Gerasi imposed the sentence on Anastasios “Taso” Kolokouris of Avon, New York, who pleaded guilty to a Clean Air Act crime.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Buffalo, the state Labor Department’s Asbestos Control Bureau received a complaint in December 2011 that people, including a 16-year-old boy, were working in and around a Dumpster near a loading dock without adequate protective equipment at a warehouse co-owned by Kolokouris. Asbestos exposure can cause asbestosis, mesothelioma and cancers of the lung, esophagus, stomach, colon and other organs, according to medical research.
Kolokouris was vice president of John K and Associates, which owned the warehouse.
The warehouse, built in 1930, is next to homes and had a school bus stop “directly outside its main gate,” the U.S. Attorney’s office said in a press statement .
Investigators found more than 90 bags of dry, friable — meaning easily crumbled — asbestos in the loading dock area, as well as evidence of illegal abatement activities. Samples of the material found there tested positive for high levels of asbestos, the statement said.
A state inspector found no asbestos warning signs posted there although they’re required.
Workers told investigators that they had done odds jobs for Kolokouris at other locations and that he promised to pay them in cash “to remove asbestos from the Dumpster outside the warehouse because the container company would not remove the Dumpster while it was full of asbestos. None of the workers were certified or trained to work with asbestos,” the statement said.
U.S. Attorney William Hochul said Kolokouris did it “simply to save money.”
His sentence included 150 hours of community service, “if possible, related to some form of environmental service” the plea agreement said, as well as payment of $250 in wages owed to the workers.
Defense lawyer David Rothenberg said his client will also pay restitution.
“The amount of restitution has not yet been fixed. However, based on communications with the government, I expect that it will be a modest number,” he said.
Rothenberg declined to comment on other aspects of the case.
Barbara Brown, the public information officer for the U.S. Attorney’s office, said she could not comment on whether the actual removal of the asbestos from the warehouse had been done legally by a licensed contractor.
As for the four years between the indictment and the guilty plea, Brown said, “The defense filed multiple motions in the case which took some time to litigate.”
In addition to the state Labor Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, state Department of Environmental Conservation and Rochester city police took part in the investigation.
The Clean Air Act violation carries a potential maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.