Nonprofit Executives Get Jail Time For Exposing Students to Asbestos

Two nonprofit executives are facing jail time after being convicted by a federal court of exposing students to asbestos.  Rudy Buendia III and Patrick Bowman were both executives at a now-defunct nonprofit organization called Firm Build.  Along with another man, Joseph Cuellar, they earlier pled no contest to their charges.  Because Cuellar reconsidered his no contest plea and still has his case pending, he has not yet been sentenced.  According to the office of U.S. District Attorney Benjamin Wagner, Buendia faces 24 months in federal prison and Bowman faces 27 months.

The Organization and the Work

Firm Build originally contracted with the Merced County Office of Education to provide job training to high school students.  As part of one of the projects, Firm Build utilized high school students to remove materials from a renovation project at Castle Commerce Center’s Automotive Training Center from September 2005 to March 2006.  Many of the materials contained asbestos.  The executives had the students remove the asbestos by concealing the work as a job training program and part of the work experience they were providing.

Prosecutors alleged that Buendia, Bowman, and Cuellar, knowingly used the students to remove the asbestos from the 2245 Jetstream Drive building in an effort to cut corners.

The Sentence

U.S. District Attorney Wagner referred to the actions of the men as “reckless” in a statement released earlier this week.  He added that “The sentences imposed today should remind all who may be involved in handling such materials that disregarding federal environmental laws can result in prison time.  I am grateful for the support of the investigations bureau of the Merced County District Attorney’s Office, and of Cal-EPA and the California Department of Justice, in the course of the investigation and prosecution of this case.”

The Danger of Asbestos

Asbestos is very dangerous because it has the potential to cause many adverse health conditions, such as lung cancer and mesothelioma.  Because of this, it is heavily regulated in terms of its detection and cleanup.  In this case, Firm Build not only had students perform dangerous work were obviously not trained or qualified to do asbestos removal, but they also violated many regulations and laws in the process by having unqualified workers perform the asbestos abatement.

According to Jay M. Green, the special agent-in-charge of the Environmental Protection Agency’s criminal enforcement program in California, “There is no safe level of exposure to asbestos.”  He further noted that “Directing student workers to illegally remove demolition debris containing asbestos, knowing they had neither the training nor the proper personal protective equipment, threatens their health and safety.”

Another problem with asbestos exposure is that many of the symptoms do not manifest until many years down the road, sometimes taking decades to develop.  The families of the student workers are still considering the civil case and may seek restitution.

Exposed to asbestos?

If you believe you have been exposed to asbestos, you may be eligible for compensation.  Contact an experienced asbestos attorney today.


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