Contract Labor Firm Exposed Workers to Asbestos Risks

A contract labor firm, pleaded\r\nguilty yesterday to a scheme of hiring unauthorized aliens to remove asbestos, according to\r\nthe Department of Justice.

Construction Personnel Inc. (CPI), a contract labor firm, pleaded guilty yesterday to a scheme of hiring unauthorized aliens from Mexico, Central and South America to remove asbestos, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ).

The company, its president, vice president and other employees entered guilty pleas yesterday in U.S. District Court in Chattanooga, Tenn., admitting to charges of conspiracy, money laundering, wire fraud, making false claims and violating immigration law.

From February 1997 to February 2000, Chattanooga-based CPI, formerly know as Service Management Inc., hired unauthorized aliens to work for contractors doing asbestos removal around the United States.

Many of the unauthorized workers were not properly trained in asbestos removal, and many had false training and health certifications.

"Businesses must not use easily exploited individuals to hard, dirty jobs that expose them to environmental risks," said Lois Schiffer, assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department''s Environment Division. "We will continue to find and prosecute those who apparently think it is acceptable to ignore laws designed to protect employee health, simply because their employees cannot advocate for themselves."

In addition to its headquarters in Chattanooga, CPI also had offices in Denver and Baton Rouge.

CPI''s project manager in Denver taught asbestos abatement classes in Spanish.

These classes, required by federal and state law to prepare workers to handle asbestos, were actually used to recruit workers who were known to be in the United States illegally, said DOJ.

During the classes, the instructor told workers to go along with circumvention of safety procedures, and to evade immigration officers by throwing asbestos at them before running away, according to DOJ.

As part of the investigation, undercover agents attended classes in asbestos abatement, and they obtained a court order to tap CPI''s phones.

"Using undocumented immigrant workers who have not been properly trained to remove asbestos is a crime that cannot be tolerated," said Steven Herman, EPA assistant administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "This violation is especially offensive because it exposes those who are the most vulnerable to the dangers of pollution."

CPI has entered guilty pleas in Denver and Baton Rouge, in addition to the guilty plea it entered today in Chattanooga.

The company could be placed on up to five years probation and pay a fine of up to $4 million.

CPI has agreed to give up claims to more than $300,000 seized by the Untied States.

CPI''s president and vice president, who directed the operations of CPI from the Chattanooga office, face up to 10 years in prison and up to $750,000 in fines.

Sentencing is scheduled for April 20, 2001.

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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