Condo project manager to plead guilty in asbestos case

Article Courtesy of Tampa Bay Online

Published January 14, 2010

TAMPA - The project manager for an Indian Shores condominium conversion has agreed to plead guilty to a federal crime for helping cover up asbestos violations.

James Roger Edwards agreed to cooperate with prosecutors as part of his signed plea deal filed in U.S. District Court. He will also plead guilty to being an accessory after the fact to the violations.

Edwards worked for Gannaway Builders when the company was hired in 2004 to convert the Indian Pass Apartments on Gulf Boulevard into the Barefoot Beach Resort condominiums. The resort had 164 units in six two-story buildings on six acres.

After asbestos was found in the popcorn texture in the ceilings of the units, the property owner and Gannaway Builders decided it was too expensive to remove the asbestos, and decided to instead cover it with drywall, according to court papers.

The technique used to cover the ceilings actually disturbed the asbestos. Then in June 2005, rain further damaged the ceilings in 10 units of one building. At the time, Edwards was managing a different project. But the superintendant of the Barefoot Beach project contacted him about the rain damage and asbestos.

Edwards was told wrongly by Gannaway's owner that the ceilings were "under threshold" for asbestos, and that the ceilings should be removed quickly to keep the project on schedule. Edwards relayed the instructions, leading workers to remove the ceilings without observing precautionary measures required by law.

Edwards became the project manager in August 2005.

Federal inspectors were tipped off that workers were being exposed to asbestos, and visited the site the following month, according to Edwards' plea agreement. Inspectors found several violations.

In an attempt to cover up the violations, Edwards wrote three letters to regulators falsely claiming that Gannaway employees had properly handled the asbestos, his plea agreement states.