Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh’s office filed criminal charges today against a Baltimore man for demolishing the historic St. Vincent Infant Asylum in 2018, an act preservationists condemned at the time and which allegedly exposed area residents to dangerous levels of airborne asbestos.
William Anthony Culler II faces eight criminal counts for razing the building, located at 1411 Division Street, in West Baltimore’s Upton neighborhood.
“We allege Culler illegally demolished these buildings without proper notice and authorization, and without the required safeguards in place,” Frosh stated in a press release.
The charges, according to a criminal information filed in Baltimore Circuit Court, include: failure to properly inspect the property for the presence of asbestos, failure to notify Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) of the intent to engage in an asbestos project, and failure to take reasonable steps to prevent asbestos from becoming airborne.
Culler, operating under the trade name Culler Group, did not respond to a text message left today.
Each charge is punishable by up to one year of incarceration and a fine of up to $25,000.
“Asbestos is an extremely hazardous substance and can become airborne during demolition, endangering the health of workers and the surrounding community, including children,” the release from Frosh’s office said.
Many countries have banned the naturally occuring substance, composed of thin fibers, in construction.
Civil Suit Pending
Construction of the asylum began in the 1860s. It was built for Catholic nuns to serve women and children.
In the 1940s, it was converted to apartments and was closed in 2013. A fire severely damaged the building, and Culler demolished it in February 2018.
After the demolition, inspectors from MDE collected samples of the rubble. A lab at the Maryland Department of Health determined one of the samples contained asbestos, which is dangerous to inhale.
In July, Frosh’s office filed a civil suit against Culler Group and the building’s owner, 1411 Division Street LLC, seeking fines of up to $25,000 a day. The case is still pending.
1411 Division Street is a Delaware-based company formed by Michael Chetrit of the Chetrit Organization, a privately held Manhattan real estate firm. The LLC purchased the property in 2016 for $866,000; the company’s charter was then forfeited for failure to file property returns, according to Maryland tax records.