Renovation Construction Manager Pleads Guilty to Asbestos Crimes

Russell Coco faces one year in prison and could be fined up to $250,000; a trial for Bob Knapp, the building owner, is set for Feb. 28.

The construction manager for a renovation project at the Equitable Building in Des Moines, Iowa, pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiracy to violate the Clean Air Act (CAA) and for violating CAA work practice standards related to asbestos removal, the Department of Justice announced on Feb. 15.

Russell Coco, 51, of Des Moines, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge James E. Gritzner for the Southern District of Iowa to one count of conspiracy to violate the CAA and one count of failing to remove all regulated asbestos containing material from the Equitable Building before commencement of the renovation project.

CAA requires contractors who remove asbestos from public buildings to follow federally established work practice standards to ensure the safe removal of the asbestos. The required standards include providing notice to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency before commencing asbestos removal, adequately wetting the asbestos during the removal and before disposal and properly disposing of the asbestos at an EPA-approved disposal site.

According to a plea agreement filed with the court, from 2006 through February 2008, Coco acted as the construction manager for the renovation project that involved converting several floors of the building into luxury residential condominium units, and renovating other floors to attract additional commercial tenants.

According to the facts contained in the plea agreement, Coco was employed as the construction supervisor and reported directly to the building owner Bob Knapp. Coco admitted that he conspired with Knapp to remove asbestos containing materials from the building without complying with CAA requirements.

While Coco was the construction manager for the project, more than 260 feet of steam pipes with asbestos containing insulation and more than 160 square feet of floor tile containing asbestos were removed from the building and disposed of in an uncovered dumpster. None of the workers involved in removing and disposing of the asbestos containing materials were properly accredited to perform asbestos abatement work.

According to the plea agreement, Coco has agreed to face up to one year in prison and, under the law, is subject to a fine of up to $250,000. A sentencing date has been set for May 20.

An indictment is pending against Knapp, alleging conspiracy and multiple CAA violations, and his case is scheduled for trial on Feb. 28. The allegations in the indictment are mere accusations and all persons are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

The investigation was conducted by the EPA Criminal Investigation Division. The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Iowa together with the Department of Justice Environment and Natural Resources Division’s Environmental Crimes Section.

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