Building owner guilty in asbestos case

Source: http://www.telegram.com, March 26, 2011
By: Martin Luttrell

The owner of the Bancroft Commons apartment building downtown pleaded guilty in Suffolk Superior Court in Boston yesterday to the improper removal and disposal of asbestos and for failing to provide pay records and evading unemployment insurance payments.

Worcester Commons LLC and JM Realty Management Inc., real estate development and property management companies, and their president, John McGrail, pleaded guilty and were sentenced to probation, according to state Attorney General Martha Coakley.

Mr. McGrail contended that his companies did not intend to improperly dispose of construction materials, and that the allegations were initiated by undisclosed union workers whom he did not hire.

For three years, 2005 to 2007, Mr. McGrail, founder of a group of businesses known as the Mayo Group, instructed his employees to perform demolition and renovation services at three Mayo Group properties in Lynn, Boston, and the Bancroft Commons building at 50 Franklin St., Worcester, which contained asbestos, according to former Mayo Group employees.

Those employees informed the attorney general’s office that asbestos-containing materials were transferred to a warehouse in South Boston, and the debris then was distributed to Dumpsters at Mayo Group properties around Boston for regular trash disposal. None of these locations had permits for the disposal of asbestos waste, the attorney general’s office said.

Inspectors from the state Department of Environmental Protection later found material containing asbestos in a trash container and in a waste pile at Bancroft Commons, the attorney general said.

The government regulates asbestos removal and disposal because inhaling asbestos fibers can cause serious health problems.

Worcester Commons LLC, which manages the Bancroft Commons, was indicted in 2009 by a Worcester Superior Court grand jury. That case was transferred to Suffolk Superior Court in June 2010, the attorney general’s office said.

After the plea changes this week, Suffolk Superior Court Judge Regina Quinlan ordered Mr. McGrail, 44, of Boston, and JM Realty, collectively, to pay $200,000 in fines, and sentenced the defendants to three years’ probation. Worcester Commons LLC was placed on pretrial probation.

The court ordered Mr. McGrail and his two corporations to provide all employees who were involved with the development of real estate with asbestos awareness training and to hire an independent auditor to review the actions of the defendants and associated companies to ensure their compliance with environmental and labor laws.

Mr. McGrail could not be reached for comment, but in a statement released yesterday he said there was no intent to improperly dispose of asbestos at Bancroft Commons or the other sites mentioned in the case.

“There was never any intent to improperly dispose of construction materials,” he said. “The safety of our workers is always paramount, as is compliance with all state and environmental regulations and laws. Although we take responsibility for what happened, we still reject many of the allegations.

“We believe strongly these allegations were brought forth by one union, that I did not hire,” Mr. McGrail said. “I make independent hiring decisions in an effort to build quality housing for working people.”

In the defendants’ sentencing memorandum, he admitted that some workers were paid “under the table.”

“Contrary to the Commonwealth’s assertions, however, none of this was related to illegal asbestos removal or any other illegality or exploitation of workers,” the memorandum says in part.

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