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09/14/2011

International fugitive sentenced for posing major public health risk

BOSTON — The former owner of a Massachusetts-based asbestos abatement training school was sentenced to more than seven years in a federal prison Tuesday in a case investigated jointly with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Albania Deleon, 41, formerly of Andover, Mass., was sentenced to 87 months in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release. She was also ordered to pay $1,200,939.45 in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service and $369,015 to AIM Mutual Insurance Company.

Deleon appeared in a federal courtroom in Boston for sentencing before U.S. District Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton. She had fled the United States after her three-week trial in November 2008.

Following her trial, Deleon was convicted of a broad range of charges involving the sale of training certificates to thousands of illegal aliens who had not taken the mandatory training course. Deleon then placed these unqualified individuals in temporary employment positions as certified asbestos abatement workers in public buildings throughout Massachusetts and New England.

Deleon was also convicted of encouraging illegal aliens to reside in the United States. The charges involved making false statements about matters within the jurisdiction of the Environmental Protection Agency, procuring false payroll tax returns, and mail fraud.

From approximately 2001 to 2006, Deleon owned and operated Environmental Compliance Training (ECT), a certified asbestos training school located in Methuen, Mass. ECT normally offered training courses on a weekly basis, however, many of the recipients of the certificates never took the required course. Instead, with Deleon's knowledge and approval, ECT's office employees issued certificates of course completion to thousands of people who did not take the course. These individuals filed the certificates with Massachusetts' Division of Occupational Safety in order to be authorized to work in the asbestos removal industry. Many of the recipients were illegal aliens who intended to skip the four-day course to avoid losing a week's pay.

According to investigators, Deleon sought to cover up ECT's practice of issuing certificates to untrained applicants by having them sign final examination answer sheets that had already been completed and graded, which she maintained in ECT's files. Based on the evidence at trial, and information supplied by the Division of Occupation Safety, ECT issued training certificates to more than 2,000 untrained individuals.

Most of the individuals were employed by Methuen Staffing, Deleon's temporary employment agency that specialized in asbestos abatement. She sent these employees to job sites throughout Massachusetts, including Boston, Worcester, and New Bedford-Fall River, as well as New Hampshire, Maine, Connecticut and elsewhere along the eastern seaboard.

Deleon paid most employees without withholding required taxes, and reported to the IRS and her workers compensation insurance carriers, only those employees who actually had taxes withheld. It's estimated the actions saved over a million dollars in tax and insurance payments.

Deleon was originally scheduled to be sentenced on March 23, 2011, but three days before the trial, she fled without warning, eventually making her way out of the U.S.

On Oct. 30, 2010, law enforcement authorities in the Dominican Republic, working cooperatively with the U.S. Marshals Service, arrested her in Santo Domingo, where she was living under an alias. In November, she was extradited to the U.S.

"Today, justice was served, and Albania Deleon has finally faced the consequences of her crimes," said U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz. I hope that this sentence sends a strong message to anyone who might contemplate fleeing to avoid punishment that we do not give up on fugitives, and we will take all necessary means and resources to apprehend and prosecute them."

"This sentencing sends a clear message to employers that seek to gain an unfair business advantage over their competitors by employing illegal workers," said Bruce M. Foucart, special agent in charge of HSI in Boston. "The potential risk to public health and safety involving asbestos and lead abatement and training licenses made this investigation and the need to bring this individual to justice even more compelling." Foucart oversees HSI throughout New England.

In addition to HSI, U.S. Attorney Ortiz acknowledged the investigative assistance of multiple federal and state agencies, including the EPA, the IRS, Office of Inspector General, Social Security Administration, Department of State, U.S. Marshals Service, the Mass., Insurance Fraud Bureau, and the Mass., Division of Occupational Safety.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Lori Holik, former Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Mitchell, and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter W. Kenyon, an EPA regional criminal enforcement attorney.