Officials said their actions allegedly caused the release of asbestos dust and debris.
New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa has announced that two men and the demolition company that operated have been indicted by a New Jersey grand jury on charges that they unlawfully removed asbestos from a closed hospital in Riverside without a license, using workers who were not trained or equipped to do the job safely.
The two men, Frank J. Rizzo and Michael Kouvaras, and the company they ran, Deuteron Capital, LLC, doing business as South Street Fillit Recycling of Riverside, were charged with the following: conspiracy (2nd degree), unlawfully causing the release of a toxic pollutant (2nd degree), abandonment of toxic pollutants (2nd degree) and violating the Asbestos Control and Licensing Act (3rd degree). The charges stem from a joint investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice Environmental Crimes Unit and the Department of Corrections Special Investigations Division.
According to the AG’s office, between August 2010 and March 2011, the defendants allegedly used untrained day laborers, including inmates from a halfway house, to remove asbestos from the hospital buildings in connection with demolition at the site and their efforts to salvage copper and steel. The two men and the company were alleged to have engaged in asbestos removal without the required license from the New Jersey Department of Labor, and their illegal activities allegedly caused the release of asbestos dust and debris.
Kouvaras, the owner of South Street, and Rizzo, the project organizer, allegedly directed unlicensed workers to remove asbestos or asbestos-containing material, bury about 50 bags of asbestos in the ground, and dump bags of asbestos on the floor of a boiler room so that it would appear that vandals had removed the asbestos while stealing copper and steel.
“These men knew there was asbestos throughout this old hospital and knew the real dangers involved in removing it, but we allege that they put their monetary self-interest ahead of the health and safety of their workers and the surrounding community,” said Attorney General Chiesa. “They are charged with serious crimes, including second-degree offenses that carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison.”
A release by the AG’s office notes that in early 2010, Rizzo solicited the owner of the Zurbrugg site for the contract to demolish the hospital. South Street was given the contract, which specified that the company would retain all of the proceeds from the recycling of metal and arrange for and pay all demolition costs, including asbestos abatement and disposal. An engineering report on the hospital buildings, which was provided to the defendants, identified extensive asbestos throughout the structures.
The defendants initially retained a licensed asbestos abatement contractor, which provided the required 10-day notice of its intent to perform asbestos abatement at the site to the Department of Labor, Department of Health & Senior Services and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. However, the defendants paid only a few thousand dollars of the 10 percent deposit required by the contractor to start the work. The contractor estimated abatement would cost about $220,000. The licensed contractor worked only one day at the site, removing a small amount of asbestos.
The defendants allegedly used day laborers from a work release halfway house in Trenton to remove asbestos from sections of the hospital without following the requirements of federal and state laws to prevent the release of toxic asbestos dust and debris.
The workers placed materials containing asbestos into black plastic bags, and some of the bags were placed in a roll-off container provided by a waste transportation company. Disposal manifests show 25 bags and 100 bags respectively were removed by a licensed hauler and disposed of at a lawful facility.
Division of Criminal Justice detectives executed a search warrant at the site on Filmore Street on March 28, 2011, and discovered material containing asbestos strewn on the floor of the boiler room. They found a roll-off container holding over 200 plastic bags of materials, 30 of which were tested and found to contain asbestos. They also uncovered two bags containing asbestos tiles buried in the ground during limited excavation at the site.