Judge denies Lawrence developer Thomas Fritzel’s motion for acquittal in asbestos case

photo by: Nick Krug

Thomas S. Fritzel stands behind one of his attorneys, Thomas Lemon, as he leaves the Frank Carlson Federal Courthouse in Topeka on Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018.

A judge has denied Lawrence developer Thomas Fritzel’s motion for acquittal, refuting his claims that a federal prosecutor did not provide sufficient evidence that the developer illegally disposed of asbestos-containing material while doing remodeling work at Alvamar Country Club in 2016.

U.S. District Judge Holly Teeter issued the order Friday. On July 30, a jury took about two hours to find Fritzel guilty on all three counts of which he was charged: knowingly failing to notify environmental agencies prior to removing asbestos material, knowingly failing to wet asbestos before removing it from the construction site and knowingly failing to dispose of asbestos waste in leak-tight containers.

Fritzel’s defense attorney filed the motion to have Fritzel acquitted on July 27, once federal prosecutor Richard Hathaway rested his case. The motion states the government failed to provide sufficient evidence that the material removed from the demolition site was the kind of asbestos that becomes airborne or that Fritzel had knowingly failed to remove and dispose of the asbestos properly.

In her order, Teeter noted the testimony of two Kansas Department of Health and Environment employees, an asbestos lab analyst, as well sample tests from 2008 and 2016 that indicated the presence of asbestos and multiple communications about those results, among other evidence. Teeter states that based on that evidence, the court finds that the record contains sufficient evidence and that a reasonable jury could conclude that Fritzel was guilty of the counts charged.

Fritzel’s sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 13. Fritzel, who previously posted a $50,000 bond, was allowed to remain on release pending his sentencing. On all three counts, Fritzel faces up to seven years in federal prison and a fine of up to $500,000, according to a news release from the U.S. attorney’s office.

Fritzel has 14 days to file an appeal in the case, and as of Monday afternoon he had not yet done so.

Fritzel is also facing other charges in a separate federal case. In that case, Fritzel and his bookkeeper, Keela Lam, were indicted on charges of scheming to collect more than $400,000 in fraudulent tax refunds from the City of Lawrence. That case is tentatively set to go to trial in January 2020.

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