AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

Georgia contractor sentenced for environmental crime

Crews working for contractor Larry Miller of Palmetto, Georgia, were exposed to asbestos fibers during interior demolition of an historic building in the District of Columbia. That placed the workers, and others exposed to debris from the building, in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury, the Justice Department says.

But this month, Miller received a probated sentence, after the government recognized the "substantial assistance" he provided in prosecuting the man who the government says was most to blame: James Powers of Virginia.

Miller, who had pleaded guilty in November 2015, was sentenced to 24 months probation and 200 hours of community service for negligent endangerment in the case, involving the 2011 demolition of the historic Friendship House, also known as The Maples.

Powers knew there was asbestos throughout the building, the Justice Department said, and he had bids for asbestos abatement from several qualified contractors.

Instead, Powers hired Miller, a general contractor with no experience in asbestos abatement, to do interior demolition so the building could be converted to condos. But Powers didn't tell Miller about the extent of the asbestos at the property and wrote a contract that excluded removal of asbestos from the property. Powers also hired a company to haul away debris, exposing waste disposal workers to asbestos.

Earlier this year, Powers was sentenced to 20 months in prison in the case.

Miller, 59, did not profit from his offense, and instead, may have unwittingly put himself at medical risk, Miller's attorney told the court in arguing for a probated sentence.

Friendship House was built in 1797 and reportedly was owned for a period by Francis Scott Keys. Demolition was shut down in 2011 following a criminal investigation by the Environmental Protection Association. Work later resumed on the project, now known as The Maples Condos.



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About the Author

Lois Norder is Senior Editor for Investigations in the newsroom at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.