Federal authorities have criminally charged the owner of one of Dayton’s hottest upscale wedding and event venues, accusing him of violating the Clean Air Act related to the disposal of hazardous material.
John Riazzi, owner of the Steam Plant Dayton, has been accused of knowingly failing to inspect the facility before its renovation and knowingly failing to provide the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of notice before work began.
Federal authorities also charged Riazzi for knowingly failing to wet regulated asbestos-containing material as it was removed during renovation of the building at 617 E. Third St.
Riazzi and his attorney declined comment on the charges, which are related to work to redevelop the steam plant that occurred in July 2016.
But in September 2016, Riazzi filed a civil lawsuit against the original general contractor on the project, MV Commercial Construction (Miller-Valentine Group), alleging the company made false claims that potentially sparked a criminal investigation.
Though the civil case was ultimately settled before it went to trial, Riazzi in court filings claimed that he had good reason to believe that roofing materials he had removed did not contain asbestos and did not require special abatement.
Asbestos containing materials at the steam plant were cleaned up and abated in September 2016.
In a statement on its Facebook page, the Steam Plant Dayton wrote that “this does not affect the steam plant business or upcoming events in any way.”
Riazzi spent about $3.8 million renovating the steam plant into upscale offices and event space. The plant, which opened in 2017, is a popular place to rent for weddings, parties and special events like Ale-O-Ween.
In late December, the U.S. Environmental Protect Agency’s Criminal Investigation Division filed a criminal complaint against Riazzi.
The complaint says that in 2016 Miller-Valentine Group’s safety director, a certified asbestos specialist, informed Riazzi that he tested roofing material and found that three of four samples contained between 20 to 30 percent asbestos.
The safety director also concluded the roofing material was “friable,” meaning it easily crumbled, with just hand pressure, the complaint said.
Miller-Valentine provided Riazzi with an estimate to abate the roofing material of more than $20,000, which he believed was too high, the complaint states.
Federal authorities say Riazzi offered two scrap metal collectors and haulers $5,500 to tear off the roof and remove the vents, but Riazzi allegedly did not tell the laborers the roof might contain asbestos and to take special precautions, the complaint says.
The workers removed the top layer of roofing, which they threw off the third-story roof onto the ground, the complaint says. They removed the debris by pickup truck, which was stored in a garage, the document states.
When Miller-Valentine learned about the roof’s removal, it alerted the Regional Air Pollution Control Agency.
Months later, the agency learned about the roofing debris in the garage, and one of its investigators took 10 samples, the complaint states.
The samples were sent to the EPA National Enforcement Investigations Center, which determined the materials were friable and said all 10 samples contained more than 1 percent asbestos, the complaint states.
The U.S. EPA’s criminal investigation task force launched a criminal investigation based on a referral from the Regional Air Pollution Agency.
The EPA says asbestos fibers are dangerous and projects must follow specific rules and regulations for the safe handling, stripping, removal and disposal of materials that contain the carcinogen.
Riazzi’s civil lawsuit against MV Commercial Construction claims the company falsely accused him of violating the law when he had the roof removed and falsely accused him of trying to cover up a violation.
In the civil complaint, Riazzi claimed he hired the laborers to remove the west roof because he believed based on available evidence that it did not contain asbestos and, even if it did, the roofing was not friable.
Riazzi claims he believed Miller-Valentine tried to increase the cost of the project by saying there was asbestos.
Riazzi’s lawsuit claims the safety director did not sample or test the west main roof with accepted protocols and then concluded it had asbestos.
The steam plant had three roofs: the northeast roof, the southeast roof and the west main roof.
Filings in the lawsuit claim that Miller-Valentine’s safety director falsified an asbestos survey and did not tell the truth about where he found the samples, what was tested and that materials were tested for friability.
The Regional Air Pollution Control Agency, however, said those inaccuracies do not change its independent findings and tests, according to civil court records.
The agency issued a notice of violation to Riazzi in August 2016 saying it found damaged, friable, regulated asbestos containing material in and around the steam plant.
Riazzi founded Riazzi Asset Management but joined the Johnson Investment Counsel in 2018 as portfolio manager.
Riazzi also incorporated St. Peter Partners LLC, which owns the old Dayton Power & Light steam plant. Riazzi Asset Management formerly was in Oakwood but relocated to the downtown plant.
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