Danger At Work! Men Plead Guilty To Illegal Workplace Acts

Three Central Valley men on Monday pleaded guilty to violating federal asbestos regulations at a former air force base in Atwater.

Joseph Cuellar, 73, of Fresno; Patrick Bowman, 46, of Los Banos; and Rudolph Buendia III, 50, of Planada, knowingly placed employees, students and subcontractors to hazardous airborne asbestos, according to reports from the California Department of Justice.

The three men were operating a demolition and renovation project at the former Castle Air Force Base in Atwater from 2005 to 2006.

While working for Firm Build Inc., the three were to turn Building 325 into a mechanic training center for the Merced County Board of Education, according to reports.

They hired local high school students from the Workplace Learning Academy in Merced to perform some of the renovation.

According to court documents, the students and other employees removed and disposed of approximately 1,000 linear feet of pipe insulation and additional tank insulation which the three men knew contained regulated asbestos-containing material without utilizing proper protective equipment or taking protective measures in violation of federal law.

Asbestos became airborne during asbestos abatement.

"Exposing student workers and subcontractors at a construction site to hazardous asbestos without any precautions, and doing so in order to cut corners and save money, is more than reckless it is criminal. The guilty pleas entered today should stand as a warning that those who disregard environmental laws in the pursuit of profit will be prosecuted, and will face prison time," said U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner in a news release.

The three men are scheduled to be sentenced June 3. Bowman faces a sentence of two years and three months in prison.{} Cuellar and Buendia face a two-year sentence.