News of three training school executives convicted of exposing Merced County, Ca. high school students to asbestos came to a fitting conclusion last month when the last defendant, Joseph Cuellar, was sentenced to serve 44 months in state prison and 22 months in federal prison. The terms can be served simultaneously. (See "Final exec sentenced to prison for exposing Merced County children to asbestos, Merced Sun-Star, 6/29/15).
So ends a legal battle that began five years ago when students who had been placed in a job training program sued the executives of Firm Build, a now defunct nonprofit training organization. The students had been placed on a job demolishing an old commercial building and instructed to remove asbestos floor tiles and pipe insulation with sledge hammers, saws and scrapers. They were only given cotton masks, hard hats and goggles for protection-far too little of what OSHA expects.
According to early reports, students who testified at the trial said the debris from breaking up the material caused a fog-like cloud inside the building, and some have complained of suffering from frequent nose bleeds and chest pains, though none of the plaintiffs have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related illness.
Rudy Buendia, project manager for the job, and Patrick Bowman, president of Firm Build, accepted plea agreements from the state last year, and were sentenced to 24 and 27 months respectively in federal prison. All three execs have been ordered to pay a total of $1.8 million to the dozens of affected former students who joined in the suit.