The owner of a Kent company that provided federally-mandated training for construction firms working with asbestos pleaded guilty on Thursday to falsifying documents as part of a scheme to violate the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act.
Isaac Cole, 54, of Kent, owns and operates Cole and Associates, Inc., a business licensed by Washington State to provide asbestos training courses for asbestos workers and supervisors in exchange for a course enrollment fee. Cole admitted in his plea agreement that he took additional fees to provide falsified certifications to people he knew had not actually taken the course, according to a U.S. Attorney’s Office media release.
Cole is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 13 before U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour.
“Asbestos is a dangerous substance, which is why state and federal authorities require those who work with it to receive annual training on how to safely handle it,” said U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes in a media release. “This defendant put workers and the public at risk by selling false certifications for asbestos training. Like this defendant, those who flout our environmental laws will be held to account.”
Cole and Associates, Inc. was licensed from 1998 to the present to provide asbestos training courses. According to the plea agreement, between 2013 and 2016, Cole caused the company to certify that various asbestos workers had successfully completed required safety courses when they had not done so. He required workers seeking these fraudulent course certifications to pay an additional fee beyond the fee Cole and Associates charged students who actually attended the classes.
After receiving these payments, Cole directed his employees to certify to L&I that the asbestos worker had attended the federally-mandated training program, when in fact he knew the asbestos worker had not undergone any of the training. Cole encouraged the participants to claim they had attended training on dates when they were on vacation (rather than on dates when they were working) so that L&I could not compare work records to class attendance records and determine that the participants were making false reports.
At least four Cole and Associates employees participated in this scheme at Cole’s instruction.
“The health threats posed by asbestos exposure are well-known and real, and any business that issues asbestos abatement training certificates without providing legitimate training puts both workers and the public at risk,” said Jeanne Proctor, special agent-in-charge of EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division in the Pacific Northwest. “EPA will continue to hold accountable any firm that illegally pursues financial gain without regard for people’s health.”
“I will not tolerate people who flout environmental laws to make a quick buck,” said Attorney General Bob Ferguson. “My office, working with our state and federal partners, will hold accountable those who threaten the environment and public health.”
“Asbestos is extremely hazardous to workers and the public. That’s why training on the proper ways for workers to safely handle it is critical and required,” said Anne Soiza, head of L&I’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health. “This sham training put people at risk. Our hope now is that nobody affected will develop asbestos-related cancer or another fatal disease because of this criminal carelessness.”
Under the terms of the plea agreement the government will recommend a sentence of probation, and may seek fines or other penalties. Cole has agreed that as a condition of his probation he will have no further participation in the asbestos training business.
The case was investigated by the Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Labor and Industries. The state Attorney General’s Office assisted with the investigation.