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President of Cleanup Company Sentenced for Anthrax Decontamination Fraud

Oscar Miranda, the president of Azteca Services Inc. based in Port Arthur, Texas, was sentenced to 30 months in prison for defrauding the U.S. Postal Service in connection with the 2001 anthrax decontamination of the USPS Morgan Processing and Distribution Center in Manhattan.

According to James B. Comey, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, U.S. District Judge Robert W. Sweet also ruled that Miranda made a false statement to an investigator during an OSHA inspection relating to the decontamination. In addition, Judge Sweet ordered Miranda to pay more than $1.38 million in restitution to the United States Postal Service.

Miranda pled guilty on July 31 to charges that he falsely represented that Azteca workers who participated in the anthrax decontamination had the training required for the job when in fact they did not. The USPS paid more than $1.6 million for their services.

The Morgan facility houses machines used for the processing and sorting of mail. In October 2001, anthrax bacteria was determined to be present on some of those machines. The USPS entered into a contract for cleaning and decontamination that required all workers performing the anthrax decontamination to have received hazwoper training.

Hazwoper training is required by OSHA rules for certain workers involved in operations that expose or potentially expose them to hazardous substances such as biological and disease-causing agents. Among other things, the OSHA rules require a minimum of 40 hours of training, succeeded by eight hours of refresher training annually, in the use of personal protective equipment, work practices to minimize risks and symptoms and signs which might indicate overexposure to hazards. The rules also require that those who have received and successfully completed hazwoper training be given written certificates, certifying that they have successfully completed the training.

Some of the Morgan decontamination work was subcontracted to Azteca. From Nov. 1, 2001, through Dec. 8, 2001, workers employed by Azteca, together with workers employed by other contractors, performed cleaning and decontamination services on the machines where anthrax had been determined to be present.

Miranda admitted at the time of his guilty plea that he knew that Azteca workers assigned to the Morgan anthrax decontamination had not received the required Hazwoper training. Nonetheless, says Comey, in order to ensure that the Azteca workers would be permitted to be involved in operations that exposed or potentially exposed them to hazardous substances so that he would be paid for and profit from their work, Miranda falsely represented that the Azteca workers had received the requisite hazwoper training and took steps to conceal the fact that they had not.

Those steps included creating and submitting bogus hazwoper training certificates for the Azteca workers, lying about the training given to the Azteca workers, instructing some of the workers to lie about their training and submitting documents to OSHA that falsely represented that the Azteca workers had received Hazwoper training during 2001.

An OSHA investigator interviewed Miranda, who falsely stated that he had given all of the Azteca workers 40 hours of hazardous materials training.

Miranda will begin serving his sentence on Jan. 12, 2004.

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