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 Southland Businessmen Sentenced for Felony Asbestos Violations

June 8, 2011

A federal court judge this week sentenced a Southland businessman to a four-year prison term for violating asbestos removal and disposal laws during the renovation of a large San Fernando Valley apartment complex.

U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson sentenced Charles Yi on June 6 to 48 months in prison. Yi was convicted on March 29 by a federal district court jury in Los Angeles of five felony counts of asbestos violations. The sentence is one of the longest handed down by a Los Angeles federal court judge for asbestos violations and reflects the egregious nature of the violations, AQMD officials said.

“Exposure to asbestos poses a very serious health risk to workers and nearby residents alike,” said Barry Wallerstein, AQMD’s executive officer. “We hope these criminal sentences will deter contractors from violating asbestos air quality regulations.”

The five counts against Yi include conspiracy to violate the Clean Air Act, failing to provide proper notification to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and AQMD about a renovation involving asbestos-containing materials, failing to provide properly trained personnel, failing to properly remove asbestos and failing to properly dispose of asbestos waste.

Judge Anderson on June 6 also sentenced John Bostick, who cooperated in the investigation, to a sentence of 6 months home confinement and 150 hours of community service. Bostick had previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the federal Clean Air Act.

In 2006, AQMD received complaints of possible improper removal of asbestos-containing materials during the renovation of a 204-unit apartment complex in Winnetka. Following inspection, AQMD inspectors found that asbestos was present in the ceilings of apartments in the complex and that untrained, non-certified workers were hired to scrape the asbestos-containing material from the ceilings. The improper asbestos removal caused asbestos fibers to spread throughout the apartment building and surrounding area, endangering public health. AQMD immediately shut down the renovation.

Buildings constructed prior to 1984, and even some built after that time, may have asbestos-containing materials in areas such as roofs, floor tiles, acoustic ceiling, insulation, sound-proofing, heating ducts, cement pipes and pipe coverings.

When left in place, asbestos in building materials typically does not pose a hazard. When disturbed by demolition or remodeling, it can become airborne. A toxic air contaminant, asbestos is known to cause lung cancer and other lung diseases.

AQMD rules, which implement portions of the federal Clean Air Act, require that an asbestos survey be conducted by a certified asbestos abatement contractor before a renovation project can begin. If asbestos-containing materials are identified, the responsible party must submit to AQMD for approval a plan on how the material will be properly handled, removed and disposed of before renovation activities commence.

The case brought against Yi and Bostick was jointly conducted by the AQMD, U.S. EPA, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

AQMD is the air pollution control agency for Orange County and major portions of Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

This page updated: June 08, 2011