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Judge Criticized for Leniency in Industrial Poisoning Case

May 28, 1991

NEW YORK (AP) _ Two executives of a thermometer manufacturing company convicted of knowingly exposing their workers to dangerously high levels of toxic mercury were sentenced Tuesday to six months of weekends in jail.

Prosecutors criticized the punishment handed down by Justice Thaddeus Owens of Brooklyn’s state Supreme Court as ″wholly inadequate.″

Brothers William Pymm, 45, and Edward Pymm Jr., 43, president and vice president of the Pymm Thermometer Co., were convicted in November 1987 of assault, falsifying business records and other crimes at their plant in Brooklyn.

When the jury returned its verdict, Owens tossed out the convictions on grounds that state prosecution was pre-empted by federal workplace safety regulations.

The convictions, however, were upheld last year by the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court, and in February the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal to review the case.

At Tuesday’s proceeding, Owens ruled that a first-degree assault conviction wasn’t warranted and dismissed the charge, which is punishable by five to 15 years in prison. He allowed a second-degree assault conviction to stand.

The Pymms had faced a maximum sentence of 2 1-3 to seven years in state prison, but Owens ordered them to spend weekends in a city jail from May 31 until Nov. 22.

The brothers also were fined $10,000 each and sentenced to serve four months of weekends, to run concurrently with the other sentences, on two misdemeanor charges of reckless endangerment and conspiracy.

″His sentence falls far short of the maximum sentence the law provided and which we had sought,″ said state Attorney General Robert Abrams. ″It utterly fails to acknowledge that these defendants were found guilty of a toxic chemical assault which left one man permanently disabled with brain damage and contaminated another 56 workers.″

Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes termed the punishment ″wholly inadequate″ and said he would appeal the dismissal of the first-degree assault charge.

The Pymms continued to insist they were innocent and said they had provided a safe workplace for their employees.

″I don’t feel like a criminal,″ Edward Pymm told Owens. ″I’ve always done my best, but if my best wasn’t good enough, please don’t sent me to jail.″

In 1985, the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration learned the Pymms were reclaiming mercury from broken thermometers in a basement recycling operation that they had kept secret from authorities.

Mercury seeped onto the basement floor, exposing workers to concentrations far in excess of federal standards.

The Pymm Thermometer Corp. and a related Pymm-owned company, Pak Glass Machinery, will be sentenced June 11 by Owens on one count of falsification of business records and reckless endangerment. Owens said he would fine each of the now-defunct companies $10,000 on the charges.

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