Friday, September 25, 2009

U.S. v. Starnes

Sep 24: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Third Circuit, Case Nos. 07-3341 & 08-1691. Cleve-Allan George and Dylan C. Starnes appeal from judgments of conviction and sentence entered against them following a jury trial in the United States District Court for the District of the Virgin Islands. Although these appeals have not been formally consolidated, the Appeals Court resolved them together because they arise from a common set of facts. The Appeals Court affirmed the judgments.

Virgin Islands Housing Authority (VIHA) received a Federal grant for asbestos cleanup to be “performed in strict accordance with all federal, state and local regulations and ordinances” and eventually awarded a demolition contract to Alvin Williams Trucking & Equipment Rental, Inc. That company, with the consent of VIHA, subcontracted the asbestos abatement portion of the project to the Virgin Islands Asbestos Removal Company (VIARCO), a company owned by George. VIARCO had “joined forces” with Environmental Contracting Company (ECC), a company run by Starnes.

Among other violations, a “pressure washer” was used to dislodge asbestos-containing materials from the site’s structures. The Appeals Court said, this removal method, although time-efficient, generated a substantial amount of debris-filled wastewater, which the crew pumped into toilets and bathtubs. But those fixtures rapidly clogged, causing wastewater to pour out and accumulate on the buildings’ balconies. In response, George constructed a drainage system out of PVC pipes, which permitted the wastewater to flow off the balconies and down to the ground. When the wastewater evaporated, it left a dusty white residue clinging to the facades of the buildings and the surrounding sidewalks and grass.

The District Court sentenced Starnes to thirty-three months of imprisonment, three years of supervised release, and a special assessment of $1,600. While noting the government’s position that George’s acts were more egregious than those of Starnes, the District Court nonetheless imposed on George the same sentence that it had imposed on Starnes.

The Appeals Court said, "Both defendants also argue, albeit somewhat perfunctorily, that the District Court committed significant procedural error by failing to give meaningful consideration to the sentencing factors set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a). We disagree. While a sentencing court must consider all of the § 3553(a) factors, it does not have to discuss and make findings as to each factor so long as the record otherwise makes clear that it took the factors into account."

Access the complete opinion (click here).