Theodore Lehmann, 67, of Tonawanda, a former state Department of Labor inspector, has pleaded guilty before U.S. District Court Judge Richard J. Arcara to violating the Clean Air Act.
The charge carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison, a fine of $100,000 or both.
U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul said the conviction of Lehmann is the final conviction relating to a four-year investigation and prosecution involving the asbestos abatement project at Kensington Towers in Buffalo.
“This prosecution revealed wrongdoing by those who contracted to perform the work correctly, both abatement and air monitoring employees,” said U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul. “It showed further that public officials, ranging from city of Buffalo inspectors to a New York state official, also committed federal crimes.”
According to Assistant U. S. Attorneys Aaron J. Mango and Russell T. Ippolito, Johnson Contracting was awarded a sub-contract to conduct the asbestos abatement project at Kensington Towers, a six-building complex on the Eastside of Buffalo, owned by the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority. A pre-project environmental survey estimated each contained more than 63,000 square feet of hazardous asbestos-containing material.
In January 2010, the state Department of Environmental Conservation received an anonymous telephone call indicating that friable asbestos was being mixed with non-friable asbestos in open containers at Kensington Towers. The caller further noted that work practice standards, designed to minimize the risk of asbestos becoming airborne during renovation and demolition activities, were not being followed. The DEC partnered with special agents of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to investigate, revealing substantial quantities of asbestos containing materials still remained in all six buildings.
Had the demolition occurred as scheduled, a significant amount of asbestos material would have been released into neighboring communities. The area immediately surrounding the Kensington Towers includes a residential area, two schools, multiple businesses and the Erie County Medical Center.
Lehmann was responsible for conducting periodic inspections to ensure compliance with state environmental regulations during the asbestos abatement project. During his inspections, he negligently released asbestos into the air and negligently relied on previous inspections conducted by JMD Environmental Inc., and its employees, who were responsible for conducting air monitoring and testing at the site. JMD indicated all asbestos had been removed from the buildings when in fact a substantial quantity had been left.
Lehmann will be sentenced Aug. 22.