A woman who falsified asbestos abatement worker certifications for thousands of undocumented workers in New England between 2001 and 2007 was sentenced Sept. 13 in U.S. District Court in Boston to more than seven years in prison.
Judge Nathaniel Gorton also ordered Albania Deleon, 41, to pay $1.2 million in back taxes and $369,015 in restitution to AIM Mutual Insurance Co., Burlington, Mass. She owned and operated what had been New England's largest certified asbestos abatement school, Environmental Compliance Training in Methuen, Mass., which issued at least 2,500 certifications to people who had not taken required training courses.
Many training program graduates, mostly young men from Central America, were never told how to wear a respirator properly. Inhalation of asbestos fibers or silicate minerals can cause malignant lung cancer and mesothelioma, among other health problems.
Fugitive in Disguise
Deleon was convicted in 2008, but before sentencing she sawed off her ankle monitor, abandoned her 3-year-old son and fled to her native Dominican Republic. She had been found guilty on 28 felony counts, including falsifying payroll tax returns and mail fraud. Deleon, disguised and using a fake name, was arrested in the Dominican Republic last October.
Deleon's school was a huge regional player responsible for more than one- third of the 12,750 licensed asbestos abatement workers in Massachusetts between 2002 and 2007. They were hired on hundreds of New England projects to remediate schools, hospitals, churches and homes. The school's 32-hour asbestos training program cost about $350, with an additional $50 fee for those who wanted to skip the coursework and still receive certification.
Deleon would fill out the tests for applicants, enter a passing grade and place individuals in jobs through a side business she owned, Methuen Abatement Staffing. She had been one of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's most wanted fugitives.
Individuals filed certificates with the Massachusetts Division of Occupational Safety in order to be authorized to work on asbestos abatement jobs, but “many of the recipients were illegal aliens who wished to skip the four-day course so that they would not forego a week's pay,” according to a statement from EPA's Boston-based region. The agency says Deleon is the fifth “environmental criminal” captured since its fugitive website was launched in December 2008.
“Justice was served. I hope this sends a strong message,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, in a statement. “Committing environmental crimes to make a profit that put workers and/or communities at risk carry serious consequences.” Deleon will be jailed for 87 months in federal prison followed by three years of supervised release, according to federal authorities.According to published reports, the workers were employed on more than 170 projects across Massachusetts from 2002 to 2006, but state labor safety officials say their work did not likely put the public at risk. But state health officials say the untrained workers could have been exposed to health risks.