For the second time in three months, a New England-based asbestos removal company pleaded guilty in federal court to wage and benefit violations.
During a change of plea hearing on Feb. 1 in the U.S. District Court in Boston, AQE Inc. of Windham, N.H., pleaded guilty to a “double breasted shop” scheme to defraud the Massachusetts Laborers Benefit Fund (MLBF). AQE set up a second corporate entity to pay union members at non-union rates without union benefits, according to a press release distributed by the U.S. attorney’s office. The company pleaded guilty to 18 counts of mail fraud, one count of benefit fund embezzlement and 18 counts of filing false documents with an ERISA fund.
According to the plea agreement, however, the U.S. Attorney’s office has agreed to dismiss all personal charges against the company’s owners, husband and wife Christopher and Kimberly Thompson. The U.S. Attorney also dropped charges against the Thompsons’ other company, Air Quality Experts.
"Initially, both the Thompsons and the two corporate entities were indicted, but the AQE pled guilty yesterday," a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney said. "As the plea agreement states, the case against the Thompsons and the other corporation will be dismissed after sentencing/judgment."
A sentencing hearing is scheduled for May 4.
The plea agreement also states that AQE, Inc. will pay $500,000 in restitution to the MLBF. In addition to the restitution, the sentencing recommendations stated in the plea agreement include three years’ probation, a fine “to be imposed by the Court if it deems a fine appropriate” and “special assessment payments totaling $14,800.”
The Thompson’s attorney, Benjamin Wish of Todd & Weld LLP said, “We are extremely pleased with the results here as the court made clear this is a very confusing gray area of the law and it is appropriate that the government agreed to drop the case entirely against the individuals and Air Quality Experts.”
In a separate federal case, the owner of Wing Environmental Inc. pleaded guilty in October to defrauding the MLBF and the Internal Revenue Service. Ronald P. Mulcahey, a resident of Andover, Mass., will be sentenced in March. Mulcahey paid workers in cash to avoid employment taxes and contributions into the union benefit fund.
Several federal and state complaints against asbestos-abatement and demolition firms operating in Massachusetts have cropped up as region continues to enjoy a construction boom. Aside from the cases alleging wage and benefit violations, the other cases allege improper exposure to asbestos fibers, which contain cancer-causing carcinogens.