U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul, Jr. announced that 32-year-old Anastasios “Taso” Kolokouris of Avon, pleaded guilty to violating the Clean Air Act asbestos work practice standards involving asbestos removal and disturbance.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig R. Gestring, who is handling the case, stated that Kolokouris 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.
According to a press release from the Department of Justice, the inspector observed people upon arrival, including a 16-year-old, 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 release goes on to state that 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.
While on site, 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 say they 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 reported that Kolokouris 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.
“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.”
The charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing has been set for June 1, 2016.