An Illinois contractor is facing a fine of up to $250,000 and a maximum of five years in prison for each of four alleged violations of the Clean Air Act as well as additional penalties for false statements he made in an attempt to remove himself from blame for exposing both his workers and the public to large amounts of asbestos.
The Great Lakes Echo reports that Joseph Chernis IV, 33, of Sherman, Illinois, is the demolition manager of a company called Midwest Demolition and Scrap Inc. and has been indicted in a federal criminal case. Other individuals, including his father, Joseph Chernis III, and the owners of the site where the alleged exposure occurred have been indicted on civil charges.
According to an indictment by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Chernis hired an untrained worker in 2014-2015 to remove asbestos pipe insulation from vacant buildings at a Pillsbury Mills facility that had been closed for more than a decade. He reportedly paid the worker, referred to as “Confidential Informant 1,” “substantially less than a trained asbestos abatement contractor would have charged.”
This worker stuffed asbestos debris into roughly 300 garbage bags and multiple open-topped cardboard boxes, which were left inside the vacant buildings. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, “As a result of the dry-removal of this asbestos pipe insulation, the floors of several buildings on the property were littered with dry pieces of asbestos-containing waste material, as was the ground in the outdoor portions of the facility. When Confidential Informant 1 removed the asbestos insulation, the removal generated a large amount of hazardous asbestos-laden dust.”
Furthermore, Chernis allegedly allowed one of these buildings to be demolished with massive amounts (more than 1,000 linear feet) of asbestos pipe insulation still in the structure.
In August 2015, a former worker on this project reported possible asbestos violations to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the site was inspected two days later. Less than one week after this inspection, a judge from the Sangamon County Circuit Court ordered the project to be put on hold, and a civil suit was filed based on claims that the “improper removal, handling and failure to dispose of asbestos-containing material has created a substantial danger to public health.”
While the project was paused, Chernis was ordered to properly note asbestos risks with signs on the worksite, to hire a project designer, and to develop a response plan approved by the EPA to deal with the asbestos. When he had not complied with these orders two months later, he was held in contempt of court. He has also been accused of making false statements in county court hearing for the civil suit.
The federal indictment states that Chernis lied when he told the court that he did not know who did the demolition work on the site, “when in truth and in fact, and as Chernis knew, he had personally participated in such demolition work, and had solicited others to assist him with that work.” He also told the court that another person “was responsible for the activities of Confidential Informant 1 at the facility when in truth and in fact, and as Chernis knew, it was Chernis who hired him and directed the activities of Confidential Informant 1.”
A hearing in the civil case regarding the asbestos exposure is scheduled for June 28.
In this case, it is possible that Mr. Chernis’ actions and alleged lying to the court regarding his role in this asbestos exposure claim may have substantially increased the penalty he will face. Unfortunately, many of the employers who negligently expose their workers and the public to asbestos are not caught, and it may not be until decades later that their victims begin to show signs of an asbestos disease like mesothelioma. When this happens, though, an experienced asbestos lawyer can investigate work history and other factors and properly attribute the source of asbestos exposure which led to illness, helping victims and their families recover compensation for their suffering and damages. To learn more about asbestos exposure lawsuits, please contact us for a free and confidential legal consultation.