EAST ST. LOUIS — A southern Illinois contractor pleaded guilty in federal court last week with illegally removing asbestos from a former school in Okawville.

Joseph Kehrer of Albers, Kehrer Brothers Construction and an affiliated roofing company was fined nearly $2 million in 2015 for federal workplace safety violations after the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration found he brought in Mexican guest workers to remove asbestos without safety gear.

OSHA reports at least eight Mexican guest workers participating in the H-2B visa program were deprived of required safety equipment while working at an Okawville school.

OSHA alleged that Kehrer threatened to fire workers, who would then be deported, if they talked to its investigators. They said the workers spoke no English and that Kehrer drove them to jobs and set up a housing camp for them. “They were at his mercy.”

The asbestos was removed in February and March 2015 from the former Okawville Elementary School, according to a news release from the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Illinois.

Kehrer admitted in court that he knowingly failed to notify the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, which he was legally required to do at least 10 days before abatement started.

He’s scheduled to be sentenced June 12, where he faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine up to $250,000.