Federal Judge Curtis Collier on Wednesday upheld a nine-level upward adjustment in the sentencing range for three defendants charged in the Standard Coosa Thatcher asbestos case.
The judge said he carefully considered the matter and allowed liberal arguments and testimony "because the decision can add years to their sentences."
Judge Collier later somewhat adjusted the sentence guideline downward for Don Fillers and more so for James Mathis and David Wood, finding that Fillers was most heavily involved in the decision to "cut corners" on the asbestos abatement at the old plant during demolition that began in September 2004 and lasted about a year.
He found that the government did not prove that dust clouds sent up from the demolition work contained tiny asbestos fibers that would have been harmful to neighbors, including children at a nearby day care center. But he said it was proven that unprotected workers at the scene were exposed to potentially deadly asbestos.
Judge Collier did not go along with a requested four-level adjustment upward on grounds that the project brought on "substantial" cleanup costs. Defense attorneys argued that the cost may have been as low as $29,000, while the amount was finally pegged at $56,000.
At the end of the day on Wednesday, guidelines were 46-57 months for Fillers, 37-46 months for Wood and 27-33 months for Mathis. Federal judges do not have to stick within the guidelines, but often do so.
The sentencing is expected to be concluded on Monday morning.
It will be the sixth day of the sentencing hearing - which is believed to be a record at Chattanooga Federal Court.
Attorney Leslie Cory said the 64-year-old Fillers has worked all his life and has a degree from Georgia Tech. She said in going in with his older brother, Gary Fillers, to buy the old plant and salvage it "he got in over his head on a business deal." Gary Fillers pleaded guilty early on and got a six-month home confinement sentence. He died last month at the age of 74.
Attorney Cory said the older brother "arguably was more culpable."
She said Don Fillers "didn't know that he was endangering anyone." She said he often visited the work site and that family members worked nearby at his Chattanooga Hardwood Company.
Attorney Gene Shiles said Wood, 48, "is the most likely to feel the ill effects from the asbestos" at the work site. It was testified that it can be 25-30 years before those effects can show up.
Attorney Robin Flores said the role of Mathis was "much less" than the others, saying it was the Fillers brothers who made the decision to switch to a much-cheaper asbestos removal firm.
Mathis' firm carried out the demolition, and Wood, a former SCT employee, was a superintendent on the project.