From: Robina Suwol
Date: 15 Mar 2002
Remote Name: 188.8.131.52
By Ruben Castaneda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 14, 2002
A landlord who pleaded guilty to obstructing a federal investigation into whether he had notified his tenants about the presence of potentially lethal lead-based paint in his D.C. apartment buildings was sentenced yesterday to two years of incarceration. The Justice Department said it was the first prosecution of its kind in the nation. U.S. District Judge Deborah K. Chasanow, sitting in Greenbelt, also ordered the landlord, David D. Nuyen, 65, to pay a $50,000 fine, which prosecutors said was the highest amount that could be imposed under federal sentencing guidelines.
"I made a mistake, and I very deeply regret it," Nuyen, who owns homes in Potomac and Silver Spring, told Chasanow before she imposed the sentence.
Maryland U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio said, "This case sends a message to landlords that they have a responsibility to warn their tenants of known lead hazards in their apartments." At least eight children who lived in buildings owned by Nuyen were found to have elevated levels of lead in their blood, according to court papers filed by Richard A. Udell, a senior trial attorney in the Justice Department's environmental crimes section.
Lead-based paint can be dangerous to children 6 and younger, causing learning disabilities, brain damage, even death. It is usually ingested through dust particles, officials said. Chasanow ordered Nuyen to surrender by April 22. But at his request, she said she would ask the federal Bureau of Prisons to consider allowing Nuyen to serve part of his sentence at a Pennsylvania boot camp that is primarily used for juvenile offenders. If he completes six months at the boot camp, Nuyen could then serve the remainder of his sentence in a halfway house, said Thomas D. Gordon, Nuyen's attorney.
On the July day Nuyen was scheduled to go on trial on 15 counts of obstructing justice and submitting false documents, he agreed to plead guilty to a single count of obstruction of justice and five counts of submitting false documents. In court papers, federal prosecutors said Nuyen matched the archetype of a "slumlord" because he failed to provide a clean and safe environment for tenants and denied responsibility for living conditions at his buildings.
From the mid-1990s through 2001, Nuyen owned and managed 15 low-income rental buildings in the District and in suburban Maryland, according to court papers. Most of Nuyen's tenants were and are poor Latinos. The federal investigation into Nuyen's compliance with notification requirements began in September 1998, when officials from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development asked him to provide proof that he had complied with the 1992 Lead Hazard Reduction Act.
The federal law requires landlords to notify tenants of the presence of lead-based paint and the hazards the paint can pose. HUD investigators decided to probe Nuyen because his name appeared on a list of landlords with the most housing code violations in the District and on a separate list, prepared by D.C. health officials, of landlords with multiple cases of lead-poisoned children.
According to court papers, Nuyen lied to HUD investigators and to a federal grand jury, and engaged in apparent witness tampering by asking tenants to sign forms saying he had provided them with a lead paint disclosure form when they first signed the lease for their apartments. In May 2000, Nuyen was cited by the District government with 2,283 counts of housing code violations at two apartment buildings he owned. As part of his settlement of that case, Nuyen has agreed to sell all of his rental buildings in the District within three years, his attorneys said.
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