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W.R. Grace execs plead not guilty

| February 24, 2005 11:00 PM

Six current and former W.R. Grace officials pleaded not guilty in federal court in Missoula Tuesday to charges including conspiracy, Clean Air Act violations and wire fraud.

Among those facing charges is Alan Stringer, 60, of Libby. The former superintendent and general manager of Grace's Libby vermiculite mine and current company representative in Libby, Stringer is charged with conspiracy, Clean Air Act violations, wire fraud and obstruction of justice.

If convicted, Stringer faces potential prison sentences of five years each for the conspiracy, wire fraud and obstruction charges plus another 15 years for Clean Air Act violations.

"This indictment falsely portrays the facts," said Stringer's attorney, Angelo Calfo. "Alan is innocent and he will prove so at trial."

Stringer and the other defendants were indicted by a federal grand jury earlier this month.

"The last two weeks, since the indictment, have been very difficult for my family and me," Stringer said in a prepared statement released by his attorney. "But the support I have received has lessened the stress and heartache associated with this unfair indictment. I want to thank the community and others for their words and acts of encouragement."

According to the indictment, company officials tried to conceal information about the health risks associated with its vermiculite mining and distribution as far back as the 1970s. The indictment estimates that around 1,200 Libby-area residents have suffered an asbestos-related abnormality associated with Grace's operations.

In addition to Stringer, Robert Bettacchi, Henry Eschenbach, O. Mario Favorito, Robert Walsh and Jack Wolter, along with the company itself, entered not-guilty pleas on Tuesday.

Bettacchi, 62, of Lexington, Mass., is a senior vice president of Grace. He is charged with conspiracy, Clean Air Act violations and wire fraud.

Eschenbach, 70, of Hilton Head, S.C., is a former health official for a Grace subsidiary. He is charged with conspiracy.

Favorito, 66, of Concord, Mass., is chief legal counsel for Grace. He is charged with conspiracy.

Walsh, 66, of Naples, Fla., is a former Grace vice president. He is charged with conspiracy.

Wolter, 71, of Palm Desert, Calif., is a former executive for Grace's construction products division. He is charged with conspiracy, Clean Air Act violations and wire fraud.

The company is charged with conspiracy, Clean Air Act violations, wire fraud and obstruction of justice and if convicted faces possible penalties of two times the gross gain the company obtained through the crimes.

A seventh Grace official, former Libby mine general manager William McCaig, is scheduled for arraignment on March 8.

A preliminary pre-trial conference for the defendants arraigned Tuesday is scheduled for March 9. Trial dates remain to be set.