Three former managers and executives of the Firm Build were fined a combined $1.8 million this month for exposing 65 people to asbestos, and subsequently found guilty of violating federal pollution laws. Many of the people exposed to the harmful substance were high school students who were visiting the now-abandoned Castle Air Force Base in Atwater, California, for job training.
According to news reports, Patrick Bowman, 48, Rudy Buendia III, 52, and Joseph Cuellar, 74, were all once executives with the non-profit Firm Build. They also managed the Castle Commerce Center Automotive Training Center, where at least a dozen high school students were exposed to asbestos while receiving job training.
Students Engaged in Dangerous Work
The Firm Build was contracted by the Merced County Office of Education to provide safe job training to the students, yet the executives cut numerous financial corners during a renovation project in which the students were partaking in. Part of the renovation project included removing asbestos-containing materials from the Jetstream Drive building, from Sept., 2005 to May, 2006.
In Nov., 2009, the Merced County District Attorney’s Office started an official federal investigation into the project and determined that numerous people were negligently exposed to asbestos. Shortly after, the defendants faced both civil and criminal charges. While all three defendants plead “no contest” to handling asbestos in an inappropriate manner that placed others at risk, only one defendant entered a plea of “guilty” for violating the National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants act.
In a 2013 court hearing, many of the students, now in their 20s, testified that they wore regular clothing when working in the building and that when they finished work each day, they were usually covered with dust. Investigations revealed that much of the dust that the students worked around each day contained high amounts of asbestos. Some students said the worked in a fog of dust daily, while others said that they were constantly breathing in the dust with no safety gear or protection. Many of them now have frequent chest congestion, nose bleeds, and health issues that they never had before working in the building.
Defendants Found Guilty of Violating Asbestos Laws
Per the deputy district attorney who handled the case, the fines that the defendants are required to pay to the state are mostly being used for medical monitoring court expenses. Civil cases are still pending after several of the students filed their own lawsuits.
“The health of these kids was sacrificed and compromised for financial gain by these defendants,” said the deputy district attorney. “This award recognizes the gravity of the harm to these individuals with respect to their health. It’s a just reward because each one of those kids are going to have to (receive) medical monitoring and will worry about their health for the rest of their lives.”
Along with the fine, the three defendants were also sentenced 12 to 24 months in federal prison. Two of the defendants, Bowman and Buendia, are both serving their time at the minimum-security prison, Federal Correctional Institution Lompoc, in Lompoc, California. Court documents indicate that Cuellar’s sentencing is still pending as he attempts to withdraw his previous “no contest” plea. His next scheduled court appearance will take place at the Merced County Superior Court on April 8.
Keep in mind that if your or a loved one were negligently exposed to asbestos, you may qualify for substantial compensation. There is currently more than $30 billion set aside in trust funds for asbestos victims. We invite you to fill out our contact form today to get free brochures from the top mesothelioma attorneys in your area.