Friday, December 18, 2009

In West Virginia, Former GSA Asbestos Official Sentenced

In October of 2007, Paul Prendergast, former coordinator for The W. Virginia Department of Administration's General Services Division (GSA), which regulates the occupational health and safety of the state's residents, pleaded guilty to violating the federal Travel Act by divulging confidential bid information to a Maryland company.
Almost a year to the day, Prendergast has been sentenced to a year in prison and $3,000 in fines by a Maryland federal court, which heard the testimony surrounding Prendergast - who worked for the GSA from 1998 to 2003 - and his involvement with Maryland-based Environmental and Demolition Services Inc. (EDS), a construction company engaged in asbestos remediation and other environmental building solutions.
Prendergast, 47, reportedly provided EDS with the information needed to win bids. In return, he received kickbacks totaling $11,000 between 2000 and 2003, during his tenure as GSA coordinator. Also, in 2001, he negotiated a joint-venture landfill agreement with EDS in which he would share the proceeds.
After leaving the GSA and W. Virginia, Prendergast - as a result of his alliance with EDS - also obtained a highly paid position in an associated firm also based in Gaithersburg, where he settled. While there, he earned a yearly salary of $85,000 and received an additional $55,000 from a subcontractor by virtue of his role as project manager for the company.
During his GSA tenure, Prendergast was in charge of asbestos and lead removal from the W. Virginia Capitol Complex, a 535,000-square-foot building comprised of 333 rooms in the main building and two wings, all built between 1924 and 1932.
Most buildings erected in the first half of the last century contain varying amounts of asbestos, either as insulation or in floor tiles, acoustical ceilings, or even in plaster. Given the age and size of the Capitol Complex, and the need (recognized by the state's Legislature in 1990) to continually renovate, many projects were undertaken. The cost to the state, between 1999 and 2005, was $329,634 just for asbestos abatement work alone.
Asbestos, when it becomes friable (or broken), releases minute particles that can be inhaled or ingested by swallowing saliva. When this happens, the particles can become lodged in the mesothelial linings of the body, found in the lung (pleura), around the heart (pericardium), and in the abdomen (peritoneum).
The most common form of mesothelioma, a cancer of mesothelial tissues, is pleural, which accounts for 75 percent of all cases. Because of its long dormancy, sometimes up to 50 years, mesothelioma ends up involving a lot of vital tissue before it is diagnosed. When diagnosis is finally achieved, doctors rarely give patients more than 18 months to live, though then percent - diagnosed early - may survive up to five years under a combined regiment of surgery and dual chemotherapies.
In 2007, after pleading guilty, Prendergast agreed to cooperate with investigators, acting as an undercover informant recording conversations and documenting questionable behavior with regard to asbestos removal by companies hired by the state. In exchange, the state agreed to postpone his sentence until enough evidence could be accumulated to convict said companies.
Subsequent to Prendergast's leaving the GSA, his replacement, Gary Bryant Jr. (and Bryant's assistant, Gary McClanahan) were both fired for inflating their pay by filing false overtime records. The same Legislative Auditor's report, issued in 2006, found that the GSA had improperly distributed monies from the Asbestos Litigation Recovery Fund.
A 2006 report by the Legislative Auditor's office concluded that Prendergast's replacement, Gary Bryant Jr.; and Gary McClanahan, Bryant's assistant, were milking overtime in the asbestos abatement program to inflate their pay. Bryant and McClanahan were fired.
The report also criticized General Services for improperly distributing funds from the Asbestos Litigation Recovery Fund (Asbestos Fund), a federal fund set up to pay asbestos injury claimants and administrated at the state level.

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