By ERIC FREEDMAN
Capital News Service
LANSING — A jury trial is scheduled to begin April 29 on asbestos-related criminal charges stemming from the conversion of a former church into a Bay City charter school.
Roy Bradley Sr. and Gerald Essex are accused of violating the Clean Air Act by failing to properly handle, remove and dispose of material containing asbestos on the Bay City Academy project. The charter school has more than 500 students from kindergarten through 9th grade at the former church and two other buildings.
Bradley, who owned Lasting Impressions, the contractor business doing the remodeling, was in charge of the project. Essex was the foreman supervising demolition and renovation activity at the site between August 2010 and September 2011, according to court documents. Both have pleaded not guilty.
Essex’s defense lawyer, James Piazza of Saginaw, said, “My client states his innocence and we’re going to try to show that at trial.” Bradley’s lawyer, Andrew Concannon of Saginaw, said, “Given the status as a pending criminal matter, I cannot comment.”
An employee of the company, Rodolfo Rodriguez, has pleaded guilty to perjury for lying under oath to the grand jury investigating the case. His sentencing is scheduled for June 15.
Medical research has connected asbestos to serious health risks including lung cancer, mesothelioma, asbestosis and nonmalignant lung disorders.
It is one of several recent asbestos criminal cases handled by federal prosecutors in Michigan.
Last November, a demolition contractor was sentenced to 14 months in federal prison for tearing down a Dearborn warehouse without removing the asbestos in it.
In June 2013, the owner of a former paper mill in Otsego was sent to prison for a year and ordered to pay $168,000 in restitution for ignoring federal regulations and paying laborers to improperly scrap material containing asbestos. The U.S. Attorney’s office in Grand Rapids said, “The salvage operation resulted in the release of a significant quantity of asbestos-containing insulation onto multiple floors of the building, which was open to the outside environment.”
And in 2012, four men and one company, Bonus Environmental, pleaded guilty to Clean Air Act violations for illegally removing materials containing asbestos at a former auto plant in Utica.
After the three defendants in the Bay City case were indicted last summer, Randall Ashe of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Criminal Investigation Division said in a statement, “There is no safe level of exposure to asbestos.”
And U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade in Detroit said, “Illegal handling of asbestos can contaminate the air and harm our quality of life. We hope that cases like this one will deter these environmental crimes.”
In January, U.S. District Judge Thomas Ludington rejected a bid by the defendants to have the indictment dismissed.
The trial will take place in federal court in Bay City. If convicted, Essex and Bradley face up to five years in prison.
Under federal sentencing guidelines and based on his prior convictions, Rodriguez faces 15 to 21 months in prison for perjury, according to his plea bargain agreement.
By ERIC FREEDMAN