Jack Wolter served as the vice president of Grace’s construction products division from 1975 to 1994. That division included the vermiculite mine in Libby, Mont. The mine’s asbestos problem was apparent from the start of Wolter’s career with Grace, according to court documents.
A 1976 memo sent to Wolter explained that that nearly two thirds of employees who had worked 10 or more years at the Libby mine tested positive for asbestos-related disease. A 1977 memo described how asbestos dust was being carried home by workers, exposing their families to relatively high levels of contamination. In the early 1980s, his division lost the O.M. Scott fertilizer company as a client because a dozen employees, after handling vermiculite from Libby, began coughing up blood.
By this time, the Libby Junior and Senior High School running tracks had been surfaced with highly contaminated mine tailings. In 1981, after finding that a significant level of asbestos could be inhaled while using the tracks, Wolter requested and authorized $20,000 to remove the mine tailings and resurface the tracks. In 2000, the EPA discovered that the tailings hadn’t been entirely removed.
The federal indictment alleges that Wolter acted with Grace in leasing and donating the mine’s export plant to the town of Libby without disclosing the asbestos contamination. The property was used for decades as the town’s little league baseball fields. He is also thought to have acted in the sale of the mine’s screening plant to a local family for their commercial nursery business, again without disclosing the contamination.
After Grace sold the mine site to Kootenai Development Company in 1994, Wolter bought $600 worth of KDC stock. In 2000, Grace bought every share of KDC stock to retake possession of the mine, paying $2.3 million for the acquisition. As payment for his shares, Wolter received $1.1 million, a gain of more than 180,000 percent in just six years.
He is charged with one count of conspiring to knowingly release asbestos fibers and keeping the hazard they posed a secret from employees, customers and government agencies in order to boost profits and curtail the company’s liability. He is charged with two counts of knowing endangerment under the Clean Air Act for his role in transferring the contaminated properties without disclosure.
– Alex Tenenbaum
Attorneys representing Jack Wolter
Carolyn J. Kubota
O’Melveny & Myers
Los Angeles, Calif.
Carolyn Kubota is a white-collar criminal defense lawyer who has never lost in court. A partner in O’Melveny & Myers’ Los Angeles office, Kubota works both civil and criminal trials. In addition to her white-collar criminal defense work, she works with internal corporate investigations and civil fraud actions, according to the firm’s Web site.
W. Adam Duerk
Milodragovich, Dale, Steinbrenner & Nygren, P.C.
W. Adam Duerk will represent Jack W. Wolter on Feb. 19 in what could be the most complex environmental criminal trial in the history of the United States.“(Duerk) is a very competent attorney,” said Giovanna McLaughlin, an associate attorney who has worked with him for four years. “He’s very professional.”
Duerk’s practice areas include product liability, insurance matters, real estate transactions and litigation, and commercial and civil litigation.
Duerk received his B.A. in human development and social relations from Earlham College in Richmond, Ind. He then studied at the University of Montana, where he earned his law degree.
Duerk has worked as a wilderness guide and staff trainer for the Outward Bound School in Colorado, Utah and Mexico. He’s also been a judicial clinic extern for U.S. Magistrate Leif B. Erickson in Missoula.
O’Melveny & Myers
Los Angeles, Calif.
Christian T. Nygren
Milodragovich Dale Steinbrenner & Nygren