Arraignments in Merced County asbestos case

Three men involved with the defunct nonprofit Firm Build are scheduled to be arraigned today in Merced County Superior Court on suspicion of exposing high school students to the cancer-causing agent asbestos. Patrick Bowman, 43, Rudy Buendia III, 47, and Joseph Cuellar, 70, are each being charged with five felony counts of child endangerment and five counts of knowingly exposing someone to harmful materials. The three turned themselves in to law enforcement last week after allegations emerged that they had cut corners in removing asbestos from the Automotive Training Center at Castle Commerce Center by using teenage students, according to investigators with the district attorney's office. The work was conducted under the direction of Firm Build from September 2005 to March 2006. Prosecutors say five victims have stepped forward, though as many as 80 students may have been affected. Bowman and Buendia remain at the Merced County Jail, and Cuellar is being held at the Fresno County Jail. All are being held on $500,000 bail.