Contractor heading to prison over asbestos pollution at Myrtle Beach condominium tower

A Little River man who allowed cancer-causing asbestos to blow onto the beach while his company renovated an oceanfront condominium tower will spend six months in prison for violating the federal Clean Air Act, a federal prosecutor said Thursday.

David Braswell -- whose company, Cool Cote LLC, was contracted to remove and replace siding at the Regency Towers in Myrtle Beach in March 2009 -- also will face six months of home confinement and three years of probation following his release from prison. He also was ordered to pay a $10,000 fine during a sentencing hearing this week in Florence.

Braswell had faced a maximum five-year prison sentence and a $250,000 fine as part of a plea agreement in which he admitted guilt to one felony charge. He initially was charged with seven violations of the Clean Air Act and two felony charges of making false statements to federal agents investigating the pollution.

Charges will be dropped against Cool Cote because the company is now defunct, according to Jim May, the assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case.

According to an indictment issued last year, Braswell started renovation work at Regency Towers without conducting an asbestos inspection or filing a written notice with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, as required by law. Cool Cote also pressure washed the building’s exterior without properly securing the area to prevent a release of friable asbestos, which blew onto the beach and neighboring properties.

“The workers for Cool Cote Inc. were not provided with respiratory protection, nor were the residents of Regency Towers informed of the danger and provided personal or environmental protection,” the indictment states.

Prosecutors say Braswell and other Cool Cote employees knew about the presence of at least 35 cubic feet of asbestos-containing material in the building’s exterior coating but proceeded with the renovation without taking legally required precautions.

The indictment also states that Braswell lied to criminal investigators with the Environmental Protection Agency on two occasions, saying “he had no knowledge of the presence of asbestos on the siding of Regency Towers.”

“Today’s sentence should serve notice that EPA and its partner agencies remain committed to protecting communities through tough enforcement of the nation’s environmental laws,” said Maureen O’Mara, special agent in charge of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in South Carolina.

Bill Nettles, the U.S. attorney for South Carolina, said his office is committed to prosecuting violations of environmental laws.

"Our office will continue to prioritize the environmental work we do with both federal and state agencies, to ensure these cases are brought to the forefront,” Nettles said in a prepared statement.

DHEC officials helped the EPA investigate the case and referred the matter to the U.S. Attorney’s office for criminal prosecution.

May said Braswell will report to prison within the next 30 to 60 days.

Contact David Wren at 626-0281 or via twitter at @David_Wren_