U.S.A. v. Chau, 221 F. 3d 438 (3d Cir. 2002) The Third Circuit Court of Appeals vacated and remanded the sentence of the defendant who had pled guilty to environmental crimes, agreeing with Ms. Lefeber’s novel arguments. Ultimately, Mr. Chau received a greatly reduced sentence.
The defendant was an immigrant, having fled the war in Vietnam. He wanted to fulfill his dream of owning property in the United States. In 1986 ,he purchased the former Drexel School building from the School District of Pennsylvania, not knowing it contained asbestos. The building sat vacant until 1997, when the EPA inspected the building and ordered him to clean up the remaining asbestos. Since he lacked the funds to do this, tried to remediate it himself. He covered his body with trash bags, put a paint respirator over his mouth and nose, aviator goggles over his eyes and a bandana over his head and began stripping the insulation and putting it in trash bags. An EPA inspector stopped him, and sealed the property. The government later declared it a Superfund site; cleanup cost $200,000.
Chau pled guilty to charges including violating the Clean Air Act and was sentenced to 51 months in jail. Lefeber represented Chau on appeal, arguing that the district court had erred in applying certain enhancements to his sentence resulting in such a harsh sentence.
The Third Circuit agreed with Ms. Lefeber, vacating the sentence and remanding the case for resentencing. The lower court then resentenced Chau for considerably less time.