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July 11, 2001
LANDLORD PLEADS GUILTY TO LYING ABOUT LEAD PAINT HAZARDS
Case is First Federal Prosecution for Violation of Lead Hazard Warnings
WASHINGTON, D.C. - A Washington-area landlord pleaded guilty today to obstructing justice and making false statements to federal officials, in order to conceal his failure to notify tenants of the presence and hazards associated with lead-based paint. The case is the first-ever criminal prosecution in the United States related to lead hazard warnings that are required by the federal Lead Hazard Reduction Act of 1992.
David D. Nuyen, 65, of Silver Spring, Md., admitted to the charges in a plea agreement filed today in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, Md. Nuyen will serve two years in prison under the terms of the agreement, if the court approves it. As part of the agreement, Nuyen also will provide all tenants with new notices about actual and potential lead hazards, and he will retain an independent contractor to assess lead paint hazards and develop a lead abatement plan for his properties. He is also subject to a maximum $250,000 criminal fine for each of the six felony counts to which he is pleading. Sentencing is set for November 19, 2001.
Nuyen has owned and managed 15 low-income rental properties in the District of Columbia and Maryland. According to a factual statement signed by Nuyen, he had notice of actual lead-paint hazards in one of his apartment buildings from District of Columbia lead inspectors, who informed him that they found lead in the building. However, Nuyen failed to provide his tenants with notice about actual and potential lead hazards before they signed leases.
"The dangers of lead poisoning have been known for years, but too many children continue to be exposed to lead hazards," said John Cruden, the Acting Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Justice Department's Environment Division. "We will vigorously enforce the federal lead disclosure requirements to protect the public and our children from these unnecessary health risks."
"Landlords must know they have a responsibility to warn their tenants of known lead hazards in their apartments," said Richard A. Hauser, HUD's General Counsel. "HUD will continue to protect young children and their families from landlords who don't take this responsibility seriously.
" Nuyen had attended classes on the Lead Hazard Reduction Act in 1997 and 1998, a requirement for being a licensed real estate broker in Maryland and Virginia. The Act, which became effective in 1996, requires landlords to give tenants an EPA pamphlet about how to minimize the dangers to children, and it directs landlords to document their compliance with the law by keeping tenants' signatures on file, using a standard disclosure form.
In September 1998, the Department of Housing and Urban Development contacted Nuyen as part of a federal initiative to enforce the Lead Hazard Reduction Act. Nuyen had no lead paint disclosure forms at that time, but he arranged a subsequent meeting with HUD officials, in November 1998, in which he presented the agency with false and backdated forms.
Nuyen admitted that he "sought to obstruct" the HUD investigation by backdating his signature, backdating tenant signatures, and directing tenants to backdate forms by entering the date they moved into their apartments, rather than the date they were actually warned about health risks, which was years after their move-in dates. In some cases, the tenant signatures were signed by Nuyen's resident property managers.
In addition to the obstruction of justice and false statements charges, Nuyen pleaded guilty to charges that he failed to provide the required lead hazard pamphlet and lead paint disclosure form. He also pleading guilty to a charge that he made false statements in connection with an investigation of alleged mortgage fraud.
Lead poisoning is a significant health risk for young children. Although ingesting lead is hazardous to all humans, children under six years of age are at the greatest risk of lead poisoning because their bodies are still developing and because ordinary hand-to-mouth activity brings them into frequent contact with lead in paint chips, dust and soil. Lead adversely affects virtually every system of the body, and it can impair a child's central nervous system, kidneys, and bone marrow and, at high levels, can cause coma, convulsions, and death. Lead poisoning is especially acute among low-income and minority children living in older housing.
HUD's Office of Inspector General, the EPA Criminal Investigation Division and the Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted the investigation. The case was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Maryland and the Environmental Crimes Section, Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Justice Department.