Metro-East News

Business owner pleads guilty of illegally removing asbestos in former Okawville school

The owner of a construction company pleaded guilty in federal court last week after he illegally removed asbestos from a former school in Okawville.

Joseph Kehrer, owner of Kehrer Brothers Construction, was charged Thursday with failing to notify regulatory authorities before removing asbestos. The asbestos was removed in February and March 2015 from the former Okawville Elementary School, according to a news release from the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Illinois.

Law requires that the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency should have been notified 10 days before work started. Kehrer admitted in court that he knowingly failed to provide notification.

The New Baden man's sentencing is scheduled for June 12, where he faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine up to $250,000.

In 2015, Kehrer was fined $1.8 million by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration for allegedly bringing in Mexican workers to remove asbestos without safety gear.

OSHA Assistant Secretary David Michaels said Kehrer exposed at least eight workers to asbestos in violation of federal health standards, then threatened to fire them if they spoke to safety investigators.

"They spoke no English. He drove them to jobs. He set up a housing camp for them. They were at his mercy," Michaels said at the time. "This case stands out because of the outrageous behavior of Joseph Kehrer."

The Department of Labor said in 2015 that Kehrer Brothers Construction had an “extensive prior history” with OSHA and had been inspected 11 times since 2007.

Federal safety officials noted in August 2016 that the business owner could face criminal charges regarding the incident.

Mary Cooley: 618-239-2535, @MaryCooleyBND