Contractor Admits Using Illegal Immigrants for Asbestos Removal

WASHINGTON, DC, December 13, 2000 (ENS) - A contract labor firm and several of its key employees have pleaded guilty to hiring unauthorized aliens to remove cancer causing asbestos from buildings and other structures.


Inhaling asbestos fibers such as these can cause a type of lung cancer. (Photo courtesy Oklahoma State University)

The firm, Construction Personnel Inc., for three years employed illegal aliens from Mexico, Central and South America to work for contractors doing asbestos removal around the United States, the U.S. Justice Department said.

Many of the unauthorized workers were not properly trained in asbestos removal, and many had false training and health certifications, Justice Department officials added.

"Businesses must not use easily exploited individuals to do hard, dirty jobs that expose them to environmental risks," said assistant U.S. attorney general Lois Schiffer, director of Justice Department's Environmental Crimes division. "We will continue to find and prosecute those who apparently think it is acceptable to ignore laws designed to protect employee health, simply because their employees cannot advocate for themselves."


Asbestos pipe and boiler insulation such as this does not present a hazard unless the protective canvas covering is cut or damaged so that the asbestos underneath is exposed to air. (Photo courtesy Oklahoma State University)

The company, its president, vice president and other employees have entered guilty pleas in U.S. District Court in Chattanooga, Tennessee, admitting to charges of conspiracy, money laundering, wire fraud, making false claims and violating immigration law.

Construction Personnel, Inc. (CPI), a Chattanooga based firm, also had offices in Denver, Colorado and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

CPI's project manager in Denver taught asbestos abatement classes in Spanish. The classes, required by federal and state law to prepare workers to handle asbestos, were actually used to recruit workers who were known to be in the United States illegally, Justice Department officials said.


Mexican nationals seeking work in the U.S. pile into a pickup truck in Mesa, Arizona. A number of U.S. comapnies have been convicted of hiring illegal immigrants to perform hazardous asbestos removal work. (Photo courtesy VCT)

During the classes, the instructor told workers to go along with circumvention of safety procedures, and to evade immigration officers by throwing asbestos at them before running away. As part of the investigation that exposed the scheme, undercover agents attended classes in asbestos abatement, and they obtained a court order to tap CPI's telephones.

The case was prosecuted by the United States Attorney's Offices in Denver, Chattanooga and Baton Rouge, coordinated by the Environmental Crimes Section of the Department of Justice. The investigation of CPI involved special agents of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Department of Defense Criminal Investigative Service, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Internal Revenue Service, the FBI, the Social Security Administration, and the Colorado State Department of Health.

"Using undocumented immigrant workers who have not been properly trained to remove asbestos is a crime that cannot be tolerated," said Steven Herman, assistant administrator for the EPA's Enforcement and Compliance Assurance division. "This violation is especially offensive because it exposes those who are the most vulnerable to the dangers of pollution."

CPI president Roy Weaver and CPI vice president Ron Goodwin, both of Chattanooga, pled guilty to conspiracy, wire fraud, and violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act. CPI employees Tina Voiles of Chattanooga and Maria Shumaker of Baton Rouge pled guilty to misdemeanor violations of the Immigration and Nationality Act for their part in the scheme.


Mexican nations seeking day laboring work in the U.S. congregate along a main road in Mesa, Arizona. (Photo courtesy VCT)

Weaver and Goodwin, who directed the operations of CPI from its offices in Chattanooga, face up to ten years in prison and up to $750,000 in fines. Shumaker and Violes face up to one year in prison and up to $3,000 in fines for each unauthorized alien they assisted to remain unlawfully in the United States.

CPI has entered guilty pleas in Denver and Baton Rouge, in addition to the guilty plea it entered in Chattanooga. The company could be placed on up to five years probation and pay a fine of up to $4 million. CPI has agreed to give up claims to more than $300,000 seized by the United States.

Sentencing for all the convicted parties is scheduled for April 20, 2001.

The practice of using illegal aliens or other untrained workers to remove as asbestos is not uncommon. In April, Jorge Mora, president of AmBien Temps Inc. in High Point, North Carolina, was sentenced to serve 15 months in prison, pay a $25,000 fine and serve a year's probation for environmental crimes.

Mora was convicted of submitting false names, social security numbers and immigration registration numbers, in order to gain asbestos removal licenses for workers at his company. Most of the untrained workers were illegal immigrants. The court also ordered Mora to report to the Immigration and Naturalization Service for possible deportation to his native Columbia after the completion of his sentence.

Last year, a New York developer and two of his companies were convicted of Clean Air Act violations related to illegal asbestos removal. Melvin Weintraub, Morelite Development and Construction Inc., and Liberty Realty Associates LLC were charged with conspiracy and participating in the illegal stripping, removal and disposal of asbestos during the conversion of a former YMCA building into an upscale apartment development in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1997.

The defendants used untrained and unprotected workers to remove asbestos from boilers, piping and floor coverings at the building. Evidence indicated that workers were undocumented immigrants from Mexico, who were locked in the building without protective equipment while they were working.

Asbestos fibers were released into the air where workers could inhale them, and asbestos filled garbage bags were disposed of in illegal locations around New Haven.