A Spanish-language professor at New Hampshire’s Keene State College pleaded guilty to two counts of misdemeanor reckless conduct relating to her participation in illegally dumping asbestos on the school’s campus. Professor Lourdes Ramirez-Crusellas, 63, received a sentence of one year, with all but nine days suspended. She will server the nine days on three consecutive weekends from Friday to Sunday. She was also ordered to pay $4,000 in fines, court costs and to cover the expenses involved in asbestos remediation and removal at the site.
State prosecutors allege that Ms. Ramirez-Crusellas took insulation and other materials laced with asbestos left over from a home renovation project and dropped the remnants into a Dumpster on the school’s campus. The plea agreement prosecutors reached with her defense attorneys reduced the charges from a Class B felony, the typical charge associated with breaking New Hampshire’s laws on conducting asbestos removal operations, down to a misdemeanor. If Ms. Ramirez-Crusellas had been convicted on both felony counts, she could have faced up to fourteen years in state prison.
During her sentencing hearing, Ms. Ramirez-Crusellas detailed her background to Superior Court Judge John P. Arnold, ranging from her family’s escape from Castro’s Cuba in 1960 to her years struggling to raise two sons as a single mother. She also outlined her volunteer work at several charities in both New Hampshire and Florida with recent immigrants. She stated that the move to dump the asbestos at the campus was a “split-second decision” she came to when her contractor told her about the time, effort and expense involved in cleaning up and hauling the asbestos insulation from her home.
Daniel Licata, the prosecutor representing the state’s Environmental Protection Bureau, told Judge Arnold that both Ms. Ramirez-Crusellas and her contractor, Paul Davis, knew of the dangers involved to their health, to the environment and to the law that their actions entailed. He also said that Ms. Ramirez-Crusellas requested a quote from a state-licensed asbestos removal firm, but balked at the price. Instead, she opted to go with Mr. Davis’s firm.
Mr. Davis pled guilty to three counts of breaking state asbestos disposal laws last May. For his part in the incident with Ms. Ramirez-Crusellas’ house, he received a one-year sentence, with all but six days suspended, and was fined $3,000. Both of them will serve their sentences in the Cheshire County Jail.
As for Ms. Ramirez-Crusellas’s teaching career, she resigned from her position as the school’s chair of its Department of Modern Languages. After an internal investigation by school officials, they ruled that she would be allowed to stay on as a faculty member, but did not release any details of their probe into the charges. According to a spokesperson for the college, the school considers the issue resolved and will not pursue any further action against Ms. Ramirez-Crusellas.
Ms. Ramirez-Crusellas’ defense attorney said that his client accepted the jail time in order to insure that the charges would be dropped to misdemeanors, since a felony charge would prohibit her from working with charities. He also stated that she did not try to shift the blame for the incident, but did not believe that her actions endangered any lives.
Sources: Boston Globe, Nashua Telegraph