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A 59-year-old businessman who oversaw renovations to one of Capitol Hill’s most storied properties has pleaded guilty to federal charges that he neglected to properly remove asbestos from the site, putting workers and the public at risk.
D.C. resident James Powers faces up to five years in prison and financial penalties for his unscrupulous work on the former Friendship House, now the Maples Condos, at 619 D St. SE. Francis Scott Key bought the home after writing “The Star Spangled Banner,” and it was later the base of a nonprofit association, dedicated to ending poverty, for more than 70 years.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for D.C. says that Powers violated the U.S. Clean Air Act in part by posing as an asbestos-abatement company roughly five years ago to his development partners. Powers also concealed the extent of asbestos on the site to a waste-disposal business, which then relocated the contaminated debris to a dump not certified to receive the material, prosecutors say.
Exposure to asbestos can lead to lung cancer, mesothelioma, and other ills, which is why the Clean Air Act requires safe removal of it before demolition. But according to USAO, Powers instructed Atlanta-based general contractor Larry Miller to proceed with the project, despite the fact that investigators had turned up asbestos at the house.
Miller pleaded guilty to “negligent endangerment” in November, also under federal statutes, and has not yet been sentenced. Before the Maples opened last year, a certified asbestos-abatement company swept the site and its work was approved. Three townhouses there sold for close to $2 million apiece, and more than a dozen new condos were listed from $489,900 to $719,900, according to the Washington Post.
“This prosecution holds this businessman accountable for his recklessness and shows we will enforce laws that protect the health and safety of workers and the citizens in the District of Columbia,” U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips said in a statement Wednesday.
Powers’ sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 16.