Make India Asbestos Free

Make India Asbestos Free
For Asbestos Free India

Journal of Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) that works for Asbestos Free India inspired by trade union leader Purnendu Majumadar. Occupational Health India and ToxicsWatch Alliance are its members that includes doctors, researchers and activists. BANI demands criminal liability for companies and medico-legal remedy for victims. It works with trade unions, human rights, environmental, consumer and public health groups. For Details: 1715krishna@gmail.com

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Woman to be sentenced in asbestos case

Note: A woman from Andover is facing sentencing on 28 charges involving her asbesto removal firm. In her employ were approximately 800 untrained, illegal workers who she had removing asbestos. On top of this, she provided false identification for those workers and evaded taxes. However, the asbestos issue is possibly the most dangerous of the charges against her.

By using untrained workers to remove asbestos, she not only put their lives in danger, but made it possible for asbestos to be missed and left behind. This puts the lives of many other people at risk as well. Unfortunately, when someone is exposed to asbestos, it can take decades for mesothelioma to develope. If the person does not know when he or she was exposed right away, there is almost no way to know, and makes it harder to diagnose and treat mesothelioma.

Punishment to be lesson to others

A Methuen businesswoman is scheduled to face sentencing in federal district court next week for her conviction last year on 28 charges of employing as many as 800 untrained illegal immigrants in the dangerous job of removing asbestos, providing them bogus identifications, and evading taxes.

Prosecutors are hoping for a tough sentence in the case against Albania Deleon, 39, of Andover, which they say would signal to those involved in the asbestos-removal business that they must abide by state and federal laws protecting the environment, their clients, and workers.

"The government is going to seek a sentence that sends a loud and clear message to the asbestos industry that it is extraordinarily important that workers be properly trained to handle asbestos, both for their own safety and to protect the public," Assistant US Attorney Jonathan Mitchell, who prosecuted the case, said in an interview last week.

Deleon, originally from the Dominican Republic and a US citizen for 15 years, is appealing her conviction.

She faces up to five years imprisonment on each charge, except for six mail fraud counts, which each carry a 20-year maximum sentence. Her lawyer, Carl N. Donaldson, declined to comment and refused to allow his client to be interviewed for this story.
Environmental officials say that even though Deleon's conviction effectively shut down her business, the largest asbestos-removal training school and employment agency in the state, many others could now step in to fill the vacuum. The hope, they say, is that these businesses will be good citizens.

Joseph Ferson, a spokesman for the Environmental Protection Agency, said officials there view Deleon's conviction as a way of "leveling the playing field" for other operations that conduct business by the book. "We welcome those who are properly licensed to do business," he said.

Deleon owned two intertwined Methuen-based companies, Environmental Compliance Training Inc. and Methuen Abatement Staffing Inc., which respectively trained and certified individuals in removal of asbestos and sent them out on jobs throughout New England.

By law, those who work with asbestos, which can cause cancer, must take an initial training course and annual refresher courses. The courses must include lectures, demonstrations, and at least 14 hours of hands-on training, respirator fit testing, course review, and a written examination with multiple-choice questions. A score of at least 70 percent is required to pass the course.

The applicant must then appear before the state agency with an application listing vital information, including a Social Security number and a certificate verifying completion of the courses. The Environmental Protection Agency oversees the program.
Deleon "cheated the system" in two ways to enrich herself, according to the government's case. Under her ownership, Environmental Compliance Training issued false asbestos removal training certificates and lied about it to the state. She also evaded payroll taxes and workers' compensation insurance premiums by paying hundreds of employees of Methuen Abatement Staffing under the table. The company had a gross unreported payroll of $4.6 million from 2002 to 2006, according to a government document introduced at the trial.

Deleon also arranged for workers from other countries to obtain false US Social Security cards. In a transcript of a conversation caught on video used in court, Deleon advises a cooperating government witness to disguise his own handwriting to get the bogus documentation for what he describes as his sister's boyfriend aiming to work for the Methuen company but not yet in the United States. "Change the writing a little bit," Deleon says in the recorded conversation.
Deleon's codefendant Jose Francisco Garcia-Garcia, an employee, was captured on videotape taking $400 from an undercover agent as payment for arranging a bogus license. He pleaded guilty and turned federal witness.

The case came about in 2006 after officials in the state Division of Occupational Safety suspended the training company's license to operate for three months for failing to provide the full training. The agency referred the case to the federal environmental agency, which passed along information to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In November 2006, federal authorities arrested some of Deleon's employees on a job at Dartmouth College, and at the same time searched the Methuen office.
Last March, a federal grand jury indicted Deleon and Garcia-Garcia. The indictment charged that they conspired to defraud the Environmental Protection Agency, and to encourage illegal immigrants to enter the country and hire them, to obtain asbestos training certificates without taking the courses, and to work in the field. Deleon was also charged with mail and tax fraud.

In mid-November, after a 2 1/2-week trial, Deleon was convicted on all charges. She appealed the case last month and is under house arrest in Andover wearing an electronic bracelet, pending her sentencing next Wednesday.

By Connie Paige

Connie Paige can be reached at connie_paige@yahoo.com

Boston Globe Correspondent / February 12, 2009

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