The federal government’s four-year investigation into a bungled asbestos-removal project in Buffalo ended Tuesday with the conviction of a state inspector who worked on the project.
Theodore Lehmann, 67, the last of nine defendants in the case, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara to a misdemeanor charge of violating the Clean Air Act.
Lehmann, who is retired from the state Department of Labor, is the third inspector to admit guilt in a case that centered around allegations that private contractors botched the removal of asbestos from the vacant Kensington Heights public housing complex.
“Government officials have a responsibility to protect those they serve,” said Vernesa Jones-Allen, special agent in charge of the New York Criminal Investigation Division of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “If they fail to do that, EPA will hold them accountable to protect the public’s health and safety.”
The federal investigation began in January of 2010 with an anonymous phone call to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. The caller complained about the illegal handling of asbestos at the Fillmore Avenue site.
In the end, investigators determined a substantial amount of asbestos had been left inside the complex’s six towers, and if a demolition had occurred as scheduled, a significant amount of asbestos would have been released into the neighborhood, which includes a residential area, two schools and Erie County Medical Center.
“Today’s development brings to a close the prosecution of those responsible for endangering the public,” said U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. “This prosecution revealed wrongdoing by those who contracted to perform the work correctly, both abatement and air monitoring employees. It showed further that public officials, ranging from City of Buffalo inspectors to a New York State official, also committed federal crimes.”