Rochester, N.Y. - Tom Waydelis of Greece didn’t expect to be so closely tied to a federal investigation into illegal asbestos removal, but he can’t avoid it now.
It began last October when he decided to store his boat and motorcycle at an indoors facility for the winter to free up space at his home.
"I stored my motorcycle and boat in this place, first the time ever, and it comes up with this," Waydelis said while standing outside 920 Exchange Street in Rochester.
In December this old warehouse building became the focus of a federal investigation. It ended with the arrest of Anastasios Kolokouris, the son of one of the building's owners. Kolokouris was charged with illegally removing asbestos from the site and a press conference earlier that day with U.S. Attorney William Hochul detailed the vast quantities of asbestos installation that was supposedly removed torn from the building by amateurs.
Yet Waydelis’ valuable property remained inside the building after federal authorities, including the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Attorney’s Office, sealed it up for public safety.
When Wayledis contacted the authorities he explained his situation and was actually added to the list of victims in this federal case, along with his daughter. Both had been present inside the building in October and noticed men working inside so authorities suspect they too could’ve been exposed to the hazardous material.
When Waydelis continued to press authorities about how he could retrieve his property, the answer was always the same.
"I'm sorry, we can't do it it's not our responsibility," Waydelis said of the response he typically got. "EPA says it's a hazardous waste site (and) if I entered it to try to get my stuff out I could be arrested and I don't want that to happen."
Then a new realization struck Waydelis while speaking with 13WHAM News on Friday. The plastic and tape used to seal the building in December was torn away and a dumpster and loading dock door appeared to be wide open to anyone who maneuvered past a poorly secured chain link gate and fence.
"We know that we can't go in there but it doesn't mean that people don't go in there," Waydelis said. "Right now I think I'm going to end up calling the police because my property's in jeopardy in there."
A Rochester Police Officer promptly responded to the area and with 13WHAM News present the officer politely explained how local laws and policies left his hands tied too. He couldn’t file charges if the property’s not damaged or stolen, and he can’t determine that without going into an asbestos-filled building that’s been sealed by federal authorities.
A glance at the area behind the building shows the remains of pipe installation that, if it came from inside the building, could also contain asbestos material. Comparing the seal over the dumpster and building’s loading dock entrance with video shot by 13WHAM News in December would lead many to believe that more than bad weather is to blame for its current condition.
"I understand the asbestos concern and everything but sometimes they have to look at the situation and I don't think that they're looking at this situation," Waydelis said. "I should be out on my boat or riding my motorcycle and I can't because of this."
A call to a lawyer representing the defendant’s father, one of the owners of that building, was not returned.
Late Friday U.S. Attorney William Hochul contacted 13WHAM News to thank us for bringing this to his office’s attention. He also explained that his office would be in immediate contact with the building owner’s lawyer about taking steps to secure the facility for public safety.
While federal authorities were responsible for the initial sealing of the building it is up to the property’s owner to deal with asbestos abatement and keeping the building secure.