Seattle Pacific Hotel owner, Vrajlal Nariya, faces felony perjury charge in addition to Clean Air Act violations
OLYMPIA, WA (STL.News) – Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson has filed criminal charges in King County Superior Court against the owner of the Seattle Pacific Hotel, alleging multiple violations of the state Clean Air Act for illegal asbestos removal, and perjury for making false statements to investigators under oath.
Ferguson asserts that during renovations of the Aurora Avenue hotel, owner Vrajlal Nariya directed a non-asbestos certified roofing contractor to remove ceiling material he knew contained asbestos in the hotel lobby. Another contractor saw the workers removing the asbestos-containing material without the proper safety equipment, and notified the Department of Labor & Industries of the alleged violation.
After allegedly confirming to investigators that he had instructed the workers to remove the material, Nariya later denied those statements under oath to L&I investigators. He instead claimed he had removed the material himself.
The charges contained in the complaint are only allegations. A person is presumed innocent unless and until he or she is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
“Asbestos is a dangerous pollutant, and poses significant risks to workers and our environment if it’s not properly handled,” Ferguson said. “My office takes worker protection and environmental enforcement seriously, and those who intentionally violate our laws around asbestos removal should expect significant consequences.”
Renovation work on the Seattle Pacific Hotel began in 2016. Nariya hired a contractor to oversee most of the renovation, but also independently hired some contractors himself, including a roofing company to replace the hotel’s roof. The overseeing contractor subcontracted to another asbestos-certified company to remove asbestos-containing popcorn ceiling material in hallways and guest rooms, which had been previously identified as part of an asbestos survey of the property.
During demolition in June of 2017, the asbestos-certified subcontractor discovered a previously hidden false ceiling in the lobby of the hotel, which also tested positive for asbestos. The subcontractor submitted an estimate for removal of the newly found asbestos. Nariya countered with a much lower offer, which the contractor turned down.
In July of 2017, the renovation contractor’s on-site supervisor reported that he saw workers from the roofing company, who were not asbestos-certified workers, removing the asbestos-containing ceiling in the lobby. The supervisor notified L&I of the violation.
Investigators reported that roofing company workers confirmed that they removed the material. The investigators took samples from the debris, which later tested positive for asbestos.
Two weeks later, the investigators returned and spoke to Nariya, who allegedly admitted to them that he had instructed the workers to remove the ceiling.
Three months later, under oath during an interview with L&I investigators, Nariya denied making the previous statements, instead claiming that he had removed the material himself. L&I fined Nariya $355,000 for the violations, which Nariya is appealing.
Ferguson today charged Nariya with two counts of violating the state Clean Air Act, and one count of second-degree felony perjury.
The Attorney General’s Counsel for Environmental Protection is handling the case for Washington.