Feds: CT brothers endangered workers’ lives in illegal asbestos removal

April 2, 2019

Two brothers, who federal authories say, put workers’ health at risk in the illegal removal of asbestos, were ordered Monday to pay fines and perform community service.

Rezart Rakaj, 35, of Ansonia, and Kliton Rakaj, 39, of Monroe, were sentenced in New Haven federal court for offenses related to the illegal and dangerous removal of asbestos at a New Haven property they were renovating in 2015.

U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton sentenced each defendant to one year of probation, a fine of $9,500, and 50 hours of community service.

According to court documents and statements made in court, in November 2015, Rezart and Kliton Rakaj, who are brothers, and another family member purchased a commercial property located at 206-220 Wallace St. in New Haven.

Prior to purchasing the property, the Realtor informed the purchasers that the property contained asbestos, and that a prior potential purchaser had already obtained a bid of approximately $117,000 for the legal asbestos abatement of the property.

Shortly after the purchase was completed, the defendants chose not to engage a hazardous materials firm to perform lawful asbestos abatement and instead employed workers who spent multiple days demolishing portions of the property, ripping out piping, breaking tiles, and conducting other renovation and construction activities, including the removal of significant quantities of friable asbestos.

On Nov. 20, 2015, inspectors from the City of New Haven Health Department, acting on an anonymous complaint, discovered the illegal asbestos removal project at 206-220 Wallace St. The inspection revealed multiple instances of illegal removal of asbestos containing “air cell” pipe wrap and asbestos-containing “mag block” tank and boiler insulation, both of which contain significant quantities of dangerous, friable asbestos.

Inspectors observed workers removing asbestos-containing material and throwing it to the floor. The workers performed no wetting, used no negative air machines to create the required vacuum effect within workspaces and set up no critical barriers or protective sheeting to guard against the release of dangerous asbestos fibers into the environment.

Though the workers wore dust masks and suits, the masks were not designed for use in asbestos abatement and failed to provide protection against asbestos fibers.

Similarly, because the suits were worn repeatedly over the course of days and not decontaminated and disposed of after use, they did not protect the workers against exposure. Inspectors also observed and photographed 100-150 standard garbage bags filled with suspected asbestos-containing material.

“These defendants recklessly cut corners and endangered the lives of their workers,” John Durham, U.S. Attorney for Connecticut said in a release. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office is committing to prosecuting all who deliberately harm the environment and risk public health in order to save money.”

“The illegal removal of asbestos insulation and the associated removal of scrap pipe and boilers from old buildings continues to be a problem throughout the Northeast,” said EPS-CID Special Agent in Charge Tyler Amon. “Inhalation of asbestos fibers can result in lung cancer and it therefore poses significant health risks to all exposed. EPA will continue to hold accountable those who commit such offenses.”

On Nov. 16, 2018, Rezart and Kliton Rakaj each pleaded guilty to one count of illegal asbestos removal in violation of the Clean Air Act.

In addition to the sentence imposed Monday, the defendants also face a fine from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration

This investigation is being conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Criminal Investigation Divisio, with the assistance of the City of New Haven Health Department and U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Elena L. Coronado and Sarala V. Nagala.