An asbestos removal company whose owner sold fake training certificates to employees worked on more than 170 projects across Massachusetts from 2002 to 2006, but state labor safety officials say the work did not likely put the public at risk.

An asbestos removal company whose owner sold fake training certificates to employees worked on more than 170 projects across Massachusetts from 2002 to 2006, but state labor safety officials say the work did not likely put the public at risk.


U.S. District Court Judge Nathaniel Gorton recently sentenced Albania Deleon, 41, formerly of Andover, to more than seven years in prison in the scheme, said the U.S. attorney's office in Boston.


Deleon owned Environmental Compliance Training, a certified asbestos removal school in Methuen, from 2001 to 2006. Prosecutors said she allowed employees to sell completion certificates to more than 2,000 people, many of them illegal immigrants, who never took a required safety course. They used the certificates to get authorization to work in asbestos removal.


Deleon then paid many of those laborers under the table to work at Methuen Staffing, a temporary employment agency that she owned, which specialized in asbestos removal, prosecutors said.


While Deleon was convicted in 2008, she fled the country to the Dominican Republican before her sentencing. Authorities arrested her there last October and got an order to return her to the U.S., authorities said.


By state law, contractors must notify the state 10 days before starting an asbestos project. According to state Department of Environmental Protection records, Methuen Staffing filed such notifications for 177 projects between September 2002 and December 2006.


Job sites ranged from homes to medical buildings to schools to Boston Symphony Hall.


Despite Deleon's deception, the state Division of Occupational Safety said there is no evidence that her company's projects pose health risks to the public today.


Brian Wong, the division's chief of inspections and enforcement, said there is enough oversight of asbestos removal that it would have raised red flags if Methuen Staffing botched its projects. 


In all cases, other contractors hired Methuen Staffing and would have overseen the company's work, Wong said.


An independent third-party consultant also is required to monitor such projects and test for asbestos on nearby surfaces and in the air before signing off on a finished job, he said.


“Even if something did go wrong, there are safeguards to prevent it from being a major release,” Wong said.


Because the state saw no problems with clearances on the projects, it only inspected two of the 177 sites and found no problems, Wong said. In cases where the company worked on schools, the state double-checked clearance records to be sure everything was in order, he said.


It is more likely Deleon's workers could have been exposed to asbestos if they were not doing the work properly or protecting themselves correctly, Wong said.


The Division of Occupational Safety developed a proficiency exam for asbestos removal workers who had obtained licenses without the proper training. Eighty-one workers who passed were allowed to keep their licenses, Wong said.


Another 61 failed, requiring them to take the proper training and get licensed if they wanted to continue working in asbestos removal. Eighteen supervisors passed the exam and eight failed.


Other workers either pursued the proper training on their own or just left the field, Wong said.


The state first discovered the scheme at Environmental Compliance Training after auditing one of its classes.


“At the time they were supposed to be holding the course, no one was at the class,” Wong said.


When inspectors approached the school, it provided them documentation claiming people were indeed taking the class, he said. The Environmental Protection Agency ultimately began an investigation.


Department of Labor Standards Director Heather Rowe said the Department of Justice honored Wong for his work on the case.


Deleon's employees also worked in New Hampshire, Maine, Connecticut and along the eastern seaboard, prosecutors said.


She also was convicted of encouraging illegal aliens to reside in the U.S., making false statements about matters in the jurisdiction of the Environmental Protection Agency, procuring false payroll tax returns and mail fraud. After her 87-month sentence, Deleon faces three years of supervised release.


Deleon also was ordered to pay more than $1.2 million in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service and $369,015 to AIM Mutual Insurance Company.


(David Riley can be reached at 508-626-3919 or driley@wickedlocal.com.)