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Apartment Complex Owner Charged For Asbestos Exposure

By Lauren DiSpirito

DENVER (CBS4)- An apartment complex management company and one of its executives are facing federal charges after renovation work caused asbestos to be released into the air.

The owner of The Overlook at Mile High apartments in Denver, Willmax Capital Management, Inc., and John Tom Williams, a corporate executive, are charged with knowingly violating a federal rule that requires owners inspect for the presence of asbestos prior to renovating a facility and negligently releasing asbestos into the air, putting people at risk of death or serious injury, according to court documents. Willmax Capital Management Inc. is based in Texas.

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Richard Kornfeld, Williams' attorney, tells CBS4 his client is "taking responsibility" and will plead guilty to the count he is facing.

In February 2014, when health officials learned renovation work had caused possible exposure to the hazardous material, the residents of 94 apartment units at the complex at 14th Avenue and Irving Streets had to be evacuated and moved into hotels. One month earlier, Kornfeld says a subcontractor began work sanding hallways in two of the complex's towers. The hallways had once been carpeted, and the carpet glue contained asbestos. A resident who was concerned about dust caused by the work contacted Denver officials, he said.

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At a hearing next month, Williams will officially enter a plea of guilty to one federal misdemeanor charge and will be receive his sentence six to eight weeks later. He faces up to one year in prison and an up to $100,000 fine.

Kornfeld says both Willmax and Williams have worked hard to remediate problems and strengthen procedures "so nothing like this ever happens again."

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In March, a class-action civil lawsuit including 43 plaintiffs, residents of The Overlook at Mile High, against Willmax was settled. An attorney for the plaintiffs told CBS4 the terms of the settlement agreement are confidential. Kornfeld, who was not involved in that case, says the company has spent nearly $1 million on remediation, reimbursing residents, and training employees to prevent another exposure. To date, Kornfeld says no one has been sickened as a result of the release.

Lauren DiSpirito reports for CBS4 News at 10 p.m. She covers breaking news and feature stories along Colorado's Front Range. Follow her on Twitter @CBS4Lauren. Share your story ideas with her here.

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