Copyright

(c) 2016 Jon L Gelman, All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Property Developer Pleads Guilty To Exposing Workers To Asbestos During Removal Operations

U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul, Jr., in Rochester, NY,  announced today that Anastasios “Taso” Kolokouris, 32, of Avon, NY, pleaded guilty to violating the Clean Air Act asbestos work practice standards involving asbestos removal and disturbance before Chief U.S. District Judge Frank P. Geraci. The charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

“Simply to save money, this defendant knowingly exposed untrained, temporary workers to asbestos – a highly dangerous substance long known to cause cancer,” said U.S. Attorney Hochul. “While all of us welcome re-development in our community, it is critical to the health and safety of employees, as well as to residents living in nearby neighborhoods, that proper removal guidelines be strictly followed. This Office will continue to prosecute those who put profit ahead of people in this important area of law.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig R. Gestring, who is handling the case, stated that the defendant was one of the owners of a warehouse located at 920 Exchange Street in Rochester. Acting on a complaint, an inspector from the New York State Department of Labor, Asbestos Control Bureau visited the Exchange Street warehouse on December 13, 2011. Upon arrival, the inspector observed people, including a 16 year old child, working in a large dumpster next to a loading dock. The inspector observed large quantities of white fibrous material, later confirmed to be asbestos, in and around the dumpster. He also noted that the people working in the dumpster did not have proper personal protective equipment, and that there was no asbestos warning signs on the dumpster.

The warehouse at 920 Exchange Street sits directly adjacent to residential homes on both the Exchange Street and Violetta Street sides, and there is a school bus stop directly outside its main gate.

When the Asbestos Control Bureau inspector made contact with the workers, they called Kolokouris to tell him about the inspection. However, the defendant told the workers not to speak with the inspector, and instead directed them to leave the area and lock the gate, which they did. While on site, however, the inspector took samples of the white fibrous material from in and around the dumpster. A lab later confirmed these samples to contain high levels of friable asbestos.

Criminal investigators from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) were notified and responded to secure the scene. A federal search warrant was obtained and federal and state agents entered the property wearing full containment suits. When agents entered the warehouse, they discovered over 90 bags of dry, friable asbestos inside the loading dock area. Agents also discovered evidence of unlawful abatement inside the warehouse involving asbestos contamination of more than 150,000 square feet. Agents took multiple samples from in and around the warehouse. These samples were analyzed by a lab, and they all tested positive for high levels of asbestos. Additional evidence located inside the warehouse connected Kolokouris to the illegal asbestos activities.

During the investigation, workers were interviewed and indicated that they knew Kolokouris from other odd jobs he had hired them to perform at other properties he is connected to. They reported that the defendant told them that he would pay 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 that Kolokouris used were certified or trained to work with asbestos. They also confirmed that one of the workers was only 16 years old; and that Kolokouris had picked the child and his mother up from home and drove them to Rochester where he paid them to remove asbestos from the dumpster. Kolokouris never provided any of the workers with proper masks, protective suits, or other personal protective equipment. Instead Kolokouris only gave them simple dust masks.

In 1971, The United States Environmental Protection Agency designated asbestos as a hazardous air pollutant. There is well established scientific data documenting the harmful effects of asbestos. Exposure to asbestos can cause a debilitating lung disease called asbestosis; a rare cancer of the chest and abdominal lining called mesothelioma; and cancers of the lung, esophagus, stomach, colon, and other organs. Congress has found independently that "medical science has not established any minimum level of exposure to asbestos fibers which is considered safe to individuals exposed to fibers.”

The plea was 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 Special Agent-In-Charge Vernesa Jones-Allen, Investigators of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Police, BECI, under the direction of Captain John Burke, the New York State Department of Labor, Asbestos Control Bureau, under the direction of Eileen Franco, and Officers from the City of Rochester Police Department, under the direction of Chief Michael Ciminelli.

….
Jon L. Gelman of Wayne NJ is the author of NJ Workers’ Compensation Law (West-Thompson-Reuters) and co-author of the national treatise, Modern Workers’ Compensation Law (West-Thompson-Reuters). For over 4 decades the Law Offices of Jon L Gelman  1.973.696.7900  jon@gelmans.com  have been representing injured workers and their families who have suffered occupational accidents and illnesses.