A Montgomery County man could face a quarter-century behind bars and be ordered to pay a fine of $1.25 million for having asbestos illegally removed from a commercial property he was in the midst of rehabbing in Philadelphia.

Federal authorities have indicted Willow Grove, Pa. resident David Mermelstein, 53, on five counts of illegal asbestos removal, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Prosecutors allege that from the fall of 2009 through the following spring, Mermelstein hired day laborers as opposed to licensed asbestos contractors to remove asbestos from a commercial property the defendant owns in Northeast Philadelphia.

The indictment claims that Mermelstein ordered the day workers to remove the product from the home without safeguards required by federal law.

Mermelstein had purchased the property, which is an old furniture warehouse, back in April 2001, according to the indictment.

The asbestos in question was contained in insulated pipes that ran throughout the building.

The indictment charges Mermelstein with violating the federal Clean Air Act, which was enacted by Congress to enhance the quality of the country’s resources and promote public health and welfare.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which creates the standards under the act, and the City of Philadelphia’s Air Management Services investigated the Mermelstein case, records show.

The indictment alleges that Mermelstein hired day laborers to remove the insulated pipes from the building after learning of the true cost associated with proper asbestos removal.

“Mermelstein directed the workers to remove asbestos insulated pipes that were present at the Property, using techniques that included cutting, breaking and ripping the dry asbestos, allowing it to drop to the floor, sweeping asbestos containing dust and debris, and disposing of asbestos in the trash and in a dumpster,” the indictment reads.

The government also maintains that Mermelstein purposely withheld from the day laborers the information that they were removing asbestos from the site, “thereby endangering their lives.”

The indictment further alleges that the defendant continued to direct the workers to remove the piping even after being ordered by the City of Philadelphia to stop the illegal removal of the product in early March 2010.

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