Brother testifies in Chattanooga asbestos trial

Brother testifies in Chattanooga asbestos trial

January 24th, 2012 by Pam Sohn and Todd South in News

The companies involved in demolishing the Standard Coosa Thatcher textile plant are facing felony charges for conspiracy to violate the Clean Air Act when asbestos was improperly removed from site. Staff File Photo

Neither the prosecution nor the defense drew any fire Monday when they questioned the brother and business partner of a man facing federal charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States, Clean Air Act violations and obstruction of justice.

The brother, Gary Fillers, already has pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge in the case.

Donald Fillers, James Mathis, David Wood and two associated companies -- Watkins Street Project Inc. and Mathis Cos. Inc. -- are named in the 23-page, 11-count indictment.

The indictment charges the men and corporations with crimes related to asbestos removal, demolition and reporting at a former Standard Coosa Thatcher textile plant on the 1700 block of Watkins Street. The alleged violations took place between August 2004 and December 2005.

Gary Fillers testified Monday, the seventh day of the trial in U.S. District Court, that he pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge in 2009 because his wife of 50 years was seriously ill and he is her primary caregiver. He was sentenced to supervised probation.

The 73-year-old told jurors that he and his brother formed Watkins Street Project as a business venture to salvage materials and eventually sell the cleared land of the former textile plant.

"We were going to buy it and make some money," Gary Fillers said.

Gary Fillers said he and his brother, who's about 10 years younger, had a falling out over the work of demolition contractor James Mathis and the work of Mathis' company. Mathis was supposed to be providing a weekly accounting of the salvage materials coming out of the plant, but that wasn't happening, he said. He eventually "walked away" from the project, he said.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Matthew Morris and Todd Gleason told Judge Curtis Collier at the end of the hearing Monday that they would likely finish with two final witnesses this morning.

Contact staff writer Todd South at tsouth@timesfree or 423-757-6347.

Contact staff writer Pam Sohn at psohn@timesfree or 423-757-6346.