Substandard training, false certifications put workers, public at risk
OLYMPIA— Two Tacoma business owners entered guilty pleas today in Pierce County Superior Court after Attorney General Bob Ferguson leveled multiple charges against them for selling substandard asbestos worker training courses and certifications through their business, Environmental Management Training Services LLC. (EMT).
Timothy Pinckney pleaded guilty to 10 separate charges— six counts of forgery and four counts of making false statements— stemming from his fraudulent operation of EMT.
Pamela Pepper, Pinckney’s business partner, pleaded guilty to five separate charges, including three counts of forgery, one count of making a false statement, and one count of official misconduct by a notary public.
The Attorney General’s Office alleged that from 2010 to 2013, EMT charged a fee to provide required asbestos training to students. The company then failed to provide the required training—and, in several instances, provided no training at all. The company would then certify to employers and to state regulators the workers were trained as required.
“Substandard and fraudulent training of asbestos workers poses an obvious and substantial risk to public health and safety,” Ferguson said. “This is exactly the type of misconduct my environmental crimes team seeks to deter.”
Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Lindquist granted the Attorney General’s Office the authority to prosecute the case per state law.
“I share the Attorney General’s concerns about environmental crimes – especially those that put both workers and the public at risk,” Lindquist said. “Deputy prosecutors and I look forward to partnering with the Attorney General on similar cases in the future.”
The Criminal Investigation Division of the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) led the investigation, assisted by the Washington Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
"This case, at its heart, is about a violation of the public’s trust,” said Tyler Amon, Special Agent-in-Charge of EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division in Seattle. “People expect that when they hire a professional to perform a service – especially when hazards are known to exist – and they see the proper accreditations, they are in good hands. In this case, unscrupulous business owners knowingly put the health and safety of both their students and the unsuspecting public at risk.”
Prosecuting environmental crimes is a top priority for Ferguson. This case is one of several environmental crimes cases Ferguson’s office has filed since he took office.
Asbestos: hazardous substance, known carcinogen
Asbestos is a hazardous substance and known carcinogen. When released into the air, it can cause cancer, lung disease and many other serious illnesses. The act of removing asbestos carries with it a high risk of creating airborne asbestos debris. Exposure to airborne asbestos particles is linked to diseases such as asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.
32-hour courses required to protect workers, public
State and federal law require any person seeking accreditation as an asbestos worker to complete four eight-hour days of training. Training courses must include lectures, demonstrations, hours of hands-on training and individual respirator fit testing. The student must then pass a closed-book examination. Certified workers must also take annual refresher courses.
Shoddy training, false certifications put public, works at risk
Based on the joint investigation, the state alleged EMT was selling its training certificates without ensuring workers took the required training and passed the required tests. This shoddy certification process put untrained workers at risk to improperly release asbestos into the air where it could be inhaled by unsuspecting members of the public— or the workers themselves.
The state alleged Pinckney sometimes cut the length of the class sessions to as little as 30 minutes in length, provided answers to the closed-book examinations, or simply took payment in exchange for certifying a worker had attended the course and passed the test when the worker did not.
Pinckney and Pepper then certified to L&I that students were trained as required and charged their employers for the training, the state alleged. Pinckney and Pepper also submitted certification applications to L&I, claiming students had successfully completed the required training and passed the examination when they knew the workers had not. L&I used and relied on this information to build its list of qualified asbestos workers in Washington.
In addition to also submitting false documents to L&I, Pepper, a former notary public, often notarized the applications for asbestos-worker certification without verifying training information, or without ever having met the alleged trainee.
As part of the plea, Pinckney and Pepper provided information that assisted L&I in tracking down the workers and companies who sought to obtain fraudulent training certificates. This investigation is on-going and more charges are expected.
Timothy Pinckney was sentenced to four months confinement and required to forfeit his asbestos course teaching credentials.
Pamela Pepper was sentenced to two months confinement and revocation of her notary license.
The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Attorney General Bob Ferguson is working hard to protect consumers and seniors against fraud, keep our communities safe, protect our environment and stand up for our veterans. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
- Janelle Guthrie, Director of Communications, (360) 586-0725
- Alison Dempsey-Hall, Deputy Communications Director, (206) 641-1335