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Lobbyist Fined $10k for Lead Violations

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

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A Maryland “super-lobbyist” with a checkered past has agreed to pay a reduced fine of $10,000 for lead-paint violations at two rowhouses he owns in Annapolis, the state Department of the Environment (MDE) has announced.

Bruce Bereano was among more than two dozen property owners cited and fined for lead violations since mid-September, the department said.

The case against the lobbyist dates to Feb. 1, 2012, when the City of Annapolis sent a referral to MDE about lead paint at Bereano's properties. According to the Maryland Historic Trust, one property was built before 1878 and the other before 1880.

The "newer" 891-square-foot structure has been occupied since 2009 by a tenant, who pays $1,400 a month in rent, MDE said. Meanwhile, the couple that had rented the other property moved out last year because of the structure's disrepair, the agency said.

Lead Law Requirements

In June 2012, an inspector from the department interviewed the tenant at the 1880 property and reported "visible chipping, peeling or flaking paint" on the outside. MDE said in court documents that both properties had deteriorated, with chipping and peeling paint on windows and the exterior.

Bruce Bereano

Lobbyist and convicted felon Bruce Breano appeared in June 2012 at the Maryland Live! Casino grand opening.

Maryland's lead poisoning prevention law requires that covered properties pass a test for lead-contaminated dust and be inspected at each change in occupancy.

The city contended that Bereano had not registered the properties for tenancy or had either one checked for environmental hazards before the tenant took occupancy in 2009.

In August, the agency notified Bereano of lead violations at his properties and fined him $13,000.

"Each day the properties remain out of compliance with the above referenced law, the penalty will continue to accrue," the agency's letter said.

'I Saw it with My Own Eyes'

In applying for his rental renewal license for the 1880 property, Bereano certified, under penalty of perjury, that the property was built after 1949.

When the city advised him that Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation (SDAT) records indicated the structure was actually built around 1900, and was thus subject to the lead laws, Bereano replied:

"The building may have been built in 1900, but it was completely gutted, destroyed and rebuilt completely in the 1970s before I purchased it. I saw it with my own eyes, and therefore the law does not apply because it was built after the time period in question."

The city ordered Bereano to either have the property inspected and certified as lead free or persuade SDAT to change the "build date" in its records.

Meanwhile, Bereano also certified that the 1878 property was actually "gutted property—built in the early 1980's" and also thus exempt from the lead laws.

EPA brochure

Maryland's lead prevention program requires the distribution of tenant information, including this Environmental Protection Agency booklet.

The city sent the same response. And MDE notes in court documents that witnesses and evidence all showed that Bereano's properties "were not gutted, destroyed or torn to the ground during renovation."

Fine Increased

Eventually, MDE added violations and increased the fine against Bereano to $20,000. The fine was ultimately negotiated down to $10,000 as part of a settlement agreement

Bereano has paid the fine, the department said.

The department said Bereano had willfully violated the lead laws and had shown a "pattern of non-compliance." Bereano argued unsuccessfully to postpone court appearances, citing his busy statehouse schedule.

Felony, Ethics Convictions

Bereano, a disbarred lawyer and million-dollar lobbyist, is well known in Annapolis, with a client list of dozens of companies, including the Washington Building and Construction Trades; the Alliance for Construction Excellence; the Maryland Park Association; and Scores Baltimore, a "gentleman's club."

In 1994, Bereano was convicted of federal mail fraud for taking $16,000 in client money and using it for illegal campaign contributions. He served a 10-month sentence and, earlier this year, lost a bid to have that conviction overturned. He was later disbarred in Maryland and Washington, D.C.

He has also been the target of at least seven state ethics investigations and has paid fines at least two cases for failing to disclose gifts to state officials, the Baltimore Sun reported in 2011.


Tagged categories: Enforcement; EPA; Laws and litigation; Lead

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