Contractor gets probation in Mendel Rivers asbestos contamination case

The L. Mendel Rivers Federal Building is at 334 Meeting St.

Albert Dickson, the project manager for an asbestos removal project at the former L. Mendel Rivers Federal Building, will spend two years on probation for lying about whether his company followed strict legal requirements designed to protect the environment.

Dickson, 62, also will be required to wear a monitoring device for three months but his movements will not be restricted, according to the sentence handed down Thursday by Judge Patrick Duffy in federal court in Charleston.

Duffy said he believes Dickson was “the victim of sabotage by a subcontractor” and that his actions were not reflective of the “otherwise outstanding life” Dickson has led.

“While we have to condemn what you did, we don’t condemn you,” Duffy told Dickson during a sentencing hearing. “Hopefully this will not ruin your life and you will be able to put this behind you.”

Dickson, who lives in New York, had faced a maximum two-year prison sentence and a maximum fine of $10,000 for lying on a document his company was required to file under the Clean Water Act.

According to information filed in the case, Dickson told investigators with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control that a water filtration system had been installed at the federal building to prevent asbestos from getting into the city’s sewer system. Investigators learned that the filtration system wasn’t installed after they questioned Dickson during a surprise inspection prompted by an anonymous complaint.

Investigators, during the surprise inspection conducted June 6, 2011, found open drains to the sewer system filled with asbestos material. DHEC issued a stop-work order to Dickson’s employer, Gramercy Group Inc., the next day. Gramercy later was allowed to return and finished the project that fall.

DHEC spokeswoman Cassandra Harris told The Post and Courier earlier this year that the asbestos project did not pose a public health hazard.

“The sewer system where the discharge took place is a closed system that was not accessible to the public,” Harris said.

Duffy, saying he is “not concerned about him ever breaking the law again,” heard excerpts from letters submitted by Dickson’s family and friends who testified to his good character. Bart Daniel, Dickson’s lawyer, said a probationary sentence is appropriate in his client’s case. The U.S. Attorney’s office had requested a three-month jail sentence.

“I’m very sorry for this whole matter,” Dickson told Duffy before his sentencing. “It’s something that I’ll always deeply regret, what I put my family through, my wife and children.”

Duffy waived a monetary penalty, saying Dickson does not have the ability to pay a fine. Duffy said he added the monitoring requirement “just to let you know as a reminder that the government is here, we care about these things and they are serious.”

The former Rivers federal building at 334 Meeting St., across from Marion Square, was shut down in 1999 after Hurricane Floyd flooded the structure, damaged roofs and disrupted asbestos in the ceilings.

Dewberry Capital, a development firm based in Atlanta, bought the seven-story structure for $15 million in a government auction in early 2008, and the city approved plans to convert it into an upscale hotel in early 2010. Construction of the hotel began last fall and is expected to be completed by the end of this year.

Reach David Wren at 937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_