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Indicted inspectors remain on the job; Accused of falsifying asbestos reports

They stand accused of covering up the illegal disposal of asbestos at an East Side housing project.

And yet, the two inspectors, one from the state, one from the city, remain on the job a week later.

"Unbelievable," said Larry Williams, a spokesman for the neighborhood and education groups concerned about the asbestos disposal. "They need to be removed from the job. Maybe they have to be suspended with pay but they need to be removed."

The inspectors, William Manuszewski of the city and Theodore Lehmann of the state, are accused of falsifying inspection reports related to asbestos removal at Kensington Heights on Fillmore Avenue.

The two men were indicted last week and face up to five years in prison, a fine of $250,000, or both for each of the counts against them.

A spokesman for Mayor Byron W. Brown declined to comment on the likelihood of disciplinary action against Manuszewski but said the city is investigating the matter.

"Right now, the city is just trying to gather information," Brown spokesman Michael J. DeGeorge said.

DeGeorge said the city's "fact-finding" effort has included an interview with Manuszewski and a conversation with the federal prosecutors investigating him.

"I can tell you," he added, "that his duties have been curtailed."

State officials, meanwhile, confirmed that disciplinary action against Lehmann, an inspector at the state Department of Labor, is possible.

Like Manuszewski, Lehmann is accused of producing asbestos inspection reports he knew were false.

"DOL is pursuing disciplinary action against Mr. Lehmann," Labor Department spokesman Leo Rosales said in a statement. "The matter is pending, and no further information is available at this time."

When U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. announced the indictments of Lehmann, Manuszewski and Donald Grzebielucha, a city inspector who has since retired, he made it clear that the allegations against them were serious.

"They certified false documents or lied about what they saw," Hochul said.

When asked if bribes were involved, Hochul said his office has yet to uncover any evidence of payoffs.

"At this point, I can't comment on the motive," he said.

Hochul declined to comment this week on the fact that Lehmann and Manuszewski remain on the job, except to say that other government agencies -- the city and state -- make those decisions.

In the indictment prepared by Hochul's office, prosecutors charge Manuszewski with four felony counts of preparing false documents.

The indictment accuses him of using the documents, known as Certification of Asbestos Removal Final Inspection Reports, to claim that asbestos work in five of the complex's six buildings had been completed when, in fact, he knew it had not been finished.

The indictment also accuses Manuszewski of certifying that all of the asbestos work followed state and federal regulations when, again, he knew it had not.

Prosecutors charged Lehmann with one felony count of producing inspection reports that indicated he observed no violations of the law when, like Manuszewski, he knew there were violations.

Lawyers for Lehmann, Grzebielucha and Manuszewski declined to comment.

For Williams, head of the Glenwood Avenue Block Club, the fact that Lehmann and Manuszewski continue to work is an outrage.

"Just like a policeman is suspended when he's accused of a crime, these guys need to be suspended," said Williams, a spokesman for the various groups concerned about possible contamination at Kensington Heights.

The 17-acre complex, located behind Erie County Medical Center, is near three schools, a large public hospital and a park frequently used by youth sports teams.

A symbol of decay and abandonment for more than three decades, Kensington Heights is owned by the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority and was targeted for demolition as part of a plan for a new $105 million retirement community.

Two of the companies involved in the demolition -- Johnson Contracting of Buffalo and JMD Environmental Inc. of Grand Island -- were charged in the 23-count indictment made public last week.

Johnson was hired to remove and dispose of the estimated 63,000 square feet of asbestos in each of the six towers, and JMD was hired to monitor their work.

The indictment alleges that from June 2009 to January 2010, Johnson instructed its workers to dump asbestos down holes cut in the floors of each building.

The company also is charged with failing to wet the asbestos and leaving it in open containers.

email: pfairbanks@buffnews.com