Las Vegas, Nevada - A California man pleaded guilty to renovating two apartment complexes in violation of federal Clean Air Act regulations intended to prevent human exposure to toxic airborne asbestos fibers.
Bobby Babak Khalili, 46, of Los Angeles, entered a guilty plea to two counts of violating the Clean Air Act before U.S. District Judge James C. Mahan in Las Vegas, Nevada. Sentencing is currently scheduled for June 15. Khalili faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each count, and up to three years of supervised release.
Khalili was indicted by a grand jury sitting in the District of Nevada in September 2019, in connection with asbestos-related Clean Air Act violations at a Las Vegas apartment complex. The grand jury later returned a superseding indictment against Khalili in July 2021, in connection with new Clean Air Act asbestos violations at a second apartment complex, which Khalili now admits he committed while on pretrial release for the first set of charges.
As part of his guilty plea, Khalili acknowledged that, on behalf of his company Las Vegas Apartments LLC, he oversaw renovation activities at both apartment complexes. He further admitted that he was aware of asbestos-containing materials at both buildings, and that he hired untrained individuals to tear out those materials without following asbestos work practice standards prescribed by the Clean Air Act. Those work practice standards require that asbestos-containing materials be safely removed prior to general renovation activity taking place. Asbestos-containing materials must be kept wet at all times to prevent dust escaping, sealed in leak-proof bags and disposed of at facilities authorized to accept asbestos waste. At both apartment buildings, untrained laborers removed asbestos-containing drywall and ceiling texture without wetting or containment, releasing asbestos fibers into the surrounding atmosphere.
Khalili also admitted to taking steps to evade law enforcement at each site. At the first apartment complex, Khalili attempted to have a dumpster filled with asbestos waste removed from the site when inspectors from the Clark County Department of Air Quality discovered asbestos-related violations. At the second complex, where he oversaw illegal renovations while on pretrial release, he instructed the contractor in charge of the renovation to lie to inspectors about who owned and oversaw the project, in an attempt to blame another person for the Clean Air Act violations he knowingly committed.
Inhalation of airborne asbestos fibers has been determined to cause lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma, an invariably fatal disease. Congress and the EPA have determined that there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos.
“The defendant placed workers and community members in harm’s way when he knowingly violated Clean Air Act requirements for the safe handling of asbestos, and then did it again while already under indictment,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The Department of Justice will continue to hold accountable those who defy federal law aimed at protecting the public from adverse health effects of asbestos.”
“Exposure to asbestos is associated with life-threatening illnesses and serious respiratory diseases,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Christopher Chiou for the District of Nevada. “By failing to follow required standards for properly handling asbestos, the defendant put the health of our communities — including workers at two apartment renovation sites — at risk. This case reflects our office’s commitment to working with our state and federal partners to enforce environmental laws that protect Nevadans from hazardous pollutants.”
“By not removing asbestos – a known carcinogen – safely from the buildings he was working on, the defendant placed the health of his apartment residents and the surrounding community at risk,” said Special Agent in Charge Scot Adair of the EPA’s Criminal Enforcement Program in Nevada. “Today’s agreement demonstrates that those who violate those laws will be held responsible.”
Special agents of the EPA and employees of the Clark County Department of Air Quality investigated the case. Trial Attorney Cassandra Barnum of ENRD’s Environmental Crimes Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jean Ripley for the District of Nevada prosecuted the case.