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Attorney denies asbestos claims against Watertown man

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WATERTOWN — The attorney for a Watertown contractor indicted this week on allegations that he unlawfully removed asbestos from an Academy Street property maintains that his client wasn’t in the state at the time the acts are alleged to have occurred and that he never authorized anyone to do anything illegal.

Aaron A. Netto, 36, of 23997 County Route 159, was indicted Monday in Jefferson County Court on two counts of second-degree reckless endangerment and single counts of third-degree endangering public health, safety or the environment, second-degree making an apparently false sworn statement and tampering with physical evidence.

The indictment charges that Mr. Netto knowingly conducted an illegal asbestos abatement at 222 Academy St.

The abatement process released more than 1,000 pounds of friable and nonfriable materials containing asbestos — a hazardous substance — into the environment, potentially endangering workers and neighbors.

His attorney, Eric T. Swartz, Watertown, claims the charges are part of a vendetta against Mr. Netto owing to an earlier case involving property stolen from several construction sites.

Mr. Netto initially was indicted on felony stolen property charges, but he pleaded guilty to six misdemeanor counts last September.

He was sentenced to three years’ probation and forced to resign from his position as a state corrections officer. Mr. Netto is also a former state Department of Environmental Conservation officer.

“Law enforcement has been obsessed with him since last year,” Mr. Swartz said. “They wanted to put him away.”

Mr. Swartz said the felony stolen property charges were based on the claimed value of the items that Mr. Netto held. But when the items were appraised properly, they had a value far below what was initially claimed.

“When it came down to crunch time, law enforcement couldn’t even do the math,” Mr. Swartz said. “The case wasn’t there.”

Mr. Swartz said that after the stolen property case was thrown out, law enforcement officers “started staking out his rental properties.”

State police, aided by the state Bureau of Environmental Crimes Investigations, charged Mr. Netto with the illegal abatement in mid-November. The indictment alleged that Mr. Netto conducted the abatement between Oct. 4 and 9.

“He was definitely not even in the city between Oct. 4 and Oct. 9,” Mr. Swartz said. “He was in Idaho. And there was no testimony before the grand jury that he directed anybody to endanger public health, safety or the environment.”

Mr. Swartz also disputes the amount of friable and nonfriable asbestos that allegedly was released. He says that while prosecutors claim more than 1,000 pounds of material were released, there was no testimony to prove it.

Mr. Swartz contends that illegal asbestos abatement cases are typically handled by the state DEC as a civil matter. Parties usually reach a consent agreement that results in fines for the violator, but no criminal charges.

“I don’t believe anyone in the history of Jefferson County has ever been indicted in an asbestos abatement case,” Mr. Swartz said. “It’s a joke. They just won’t leave him alone. It’s something no one on earth would ever be charged with besides him.”

Assistant District Attorney Patricia L. Dzuiba, who is prosecuting the case, said she believes the arrest was legitimate.

“We processed this felony matter as we do every felony matter,” Ms. Dzuiba stated. “There is a process that we follow, and we have followed it, and I will defer judgment to a jury of Mr. Netto’s peers.”

According to Mr. Swartz, if Mr. Netto is convicted of the charges, he could face a sentence ranging from five years’ probation to 113 to 4 years in prison.

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