The owner of several garbage hauling businesses in Cleveland has been sentenced to five years in prison and a fine of $7.8 million for failing to remove asbestos before demolishing a factory in that city. It’s one of the stiffest fines ever imposed for such a crime.
According to an article in Crain’s Cleveland Business, Christopher Gattarello, the owner of Reach Out Disposal, All Points Rubbish Disposal and Axelrod Rubbish Recycling, leased the old National Acme plant in 2011 for the purpose of recycling paper and cardboard waste there.
The building on East 131st Street eventually filled up with all sorts of waste material.
Then he did the unthinkable.
“He purchased the building in May 2012, intending to demolish it and sell the metal rubble for scrap,” the article explains. “Without city approval, demolition began in July 2012 releasing asbestos fibers into the air, a violation of the Clean Air Act.”
The city’s Environmental Crimes Task Force took action when they found out what happened and eventually secured the conviction this past week.
“The city has pursued the responsible parties aggressively to ensure they provide full remediation of the site in accordance with federal EPA laws and regulations,” said Cleveland Mayor, Frank Jackson. “The city sought and was granted full restitution from one of the responsible individuals at his sentencing in federal court…,” he told the press.
The money Gattarello must pay will be divided among a few different entities. The largest amount – $5.9 million – will go to the city of Cleveland for proper clean-up of the asbestos-laden site, which presented a huge health hazard to those in the area before it was discovered.
About $800,000 will be returned to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for work already completed at the site. The remainder will go to a Louisiana financial factoring company in regards to the submission of false invoices.
Robert Shaw, a co-defendant from Michigan, will also be serving a year in prison and must contribute towards the restitution.
Locals believe the punishment is fair, especially given the health hazard that Gattarello created when he left materials out in the open, allowing fibers to spread through the air due to improper asbestos handling.
It’s also likely that Gattarello’s employees were exposed to toxic asbestos while on the job and may eventually be able to file suit against the dishonest business owner.
“Mr. Gattarello created a garbage dump in a residential neighborhood near a school, which remains an environmental hazard,” said acting U.S. Attorney David A. Sierleja in a news release. “He has caused irreparable harm and deserves this punishment.”