Justice for the neighbors of a midtown environmental debacle moved a step closer to reality Wednesday when a developer pleaded guilty to violations of the federal Clean Air Act.
William M. Threatt Jr., 71, admitted in Kansas City that he failed to properly remove and dispose of cancer-causing asbestos between 2001 and 2006 while overseeing the development of the Citadel Plaza retail project.
A federal grand jury charged Threatt, former president of the Community Development Corporation of Kansas City, and Anthony Crompton, the corporation’s former real estate director, in 2010 with failing to properly inspect for asbestos inside structures that were being demolished and then failing to remove much of the carcinogen.
Crompton pleaded guilty in October.
The Kansas City Star first reported that asbestos contaminated the area in 2006. A reporter found that scores of homes built with asbestos-contaminated materials had been demolished and no asbestos permits had been obtained.
Threatt said little during the 20-minute hearing Wednesday before U.S. District Judge Gary Fenner.
“Is it your intent to plead guilty to this charge because you are, in fact, guilty?” Fenner asked.
“Yes, sir,” Threatt replied.
Afterward, Threatt and his lawyer, P.J. O’Connor, declined further comment.
No sentencing date has been set for Threatt or Crompton. Both face up to five years in prison and a maximum $250,000 fine.
The Citadel Plaza redevelopment site was bounded by 60th Street on the north, 63rd Street to the south, Prospect Avenue on the east and Brooklyn Avenue to the west. After purchasing much of the property from Research Hospital, the development corporation announced plans to build a 35-acre shopping center, including a full-service grocery, retailers, restaurants and homes.
But instead of delivering the promised $80 million retail jewel to the blighted neighborhood, the developers allowed years to pass as the area became contaminated with building materials that had been left in huge piles and in nearby woods.
And the work the developers and their contractors performed violated federal environmental laws, prosecutors alleged. According to federal court records, Threatt and Crompton all but ignored the environmental rules that require careful inspection, removal, disposal and detailed recordkeeping of asbestos-containing building materials.
The project also had become a legal and economic nightmare for the city.
Two weeks ago, a Jackson County judge gave final approval to a $15 million settlement between the city and the developers, who contended that the city had reneged on an agreement to provide at least $20.5 million to jumpstart the project in late 2008.
Council members countered that the developers had not held up their end of the bargain by resolving earlier lawsuits and paying all taxes.
For its $15 million, the city received most of the real estate and the rights to take another crack at redeveloping it.
The city’s money will pay for legal fees, the dissolution of the development company and to partially reimburse contractors, vendors and a lender that worked on the project.
City officials said none of the money would go to Threatt, who retired in 2009.