Jonathan Shokrian, an SMU Alum/Hipster Underwear Salesman, Allegedly Exposed Day Laborers to Asbestos

Categories: Environment

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Jonathan Shokrian

If you've ever felt the urge to buy a single pair of fancy underpants for $16 from a bunch of bros with cool Facebook pictures, then you may have heard of Jonathan Shokrian. In the tech and fashion press, he's known as the CEO of a very hip underwear website called MeUndies.com.

"We're never going to be Calvin Klein," Shokrian told The New York Times last May. "This is like American Apparel, but more tasteful."

Here's what's not tasteful: The Environmental Protection Agency says that Shokrian exposed day laborers to toxic asbestos when he was a student at SMU, working for his dad's construction company and trying to save money on asbestos removal.

Shokrian was just sentenced to a year in prison and a $25,000 fine for violating the Clean Air Act. He pleaded guilty to the charges to one count of failure to notify under the act.

Shokrian passed along our questions about the charges to an attorney, Stephen L. Joseph, who says that "this story is not that simple." Joseph promised to send a statement explaining the real story as of 10 a.m., though we still don't have it. (We'll add an update when and if that arrives See the update below).

At the time of the contamination, Shokrian was working for a property company called Califco that's run by his dad. He worked in Irving as the company's regional director while also juggling being a student at SMU.

Most of Califco's properties are near Beverly Hills, where the company is based, but they have a few notable properties in Dallas. One of those is the high-end 3200 Thomas townhome complex in Uptown, of which Shokrian oversaw the construction.

"The construction costs were just skyrocketing," Shokrian prophetically griped to the Dallas Business Journal in 2006.

A few years later, Shokrian went to work at the Crest Plaza Shopping Center in Dallas. The building was contaminated with asbestos, as many old buildings are, and he hired a specialized contractor to remove it, according to the government's complaint. So far, so good.

But later that year, Shokrian decided to get asbestos removed from a different building, the abandoned Fazio's department store in the Plymouth Park Shopping Center. And this time, there would be no specialized asbestos contractor.

Instead, he hired two day laborers. To be fair, he did provide the day laborers with some masks, respirators and other tools, but the masks "were not adequate to protect them from asbestos fiber," the government's complaint says. The feds also charge that Shokrian failed to tell other tenants in the building or the workers themselves that they were unleashing a known carcinogen in the air.

Starting in November 2008, the feds say, Shokrian had laborers use floor grinders and hand tools to remove the asbestos from the floor tiles. They then dumped the asbestos into a bin to go to a city landfill, according to the complaint. The gloriously low-budget asbestos renovation came to a halt in February 2009, when, allegedly under Shokrian's supervision, the day laborers poured large amounts of gasoline over the contaminated floor tiles.

Read on for the Irving Fire Department report.

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Screenshot of Shokrian's website

On February 27, the Irving Fire Department responded to a call about overwhelming gasoline fumes in the air. The fumes were so concentrated that the firefighters ordered an evacuation of the building and part of a nearby neighborhood. That's how the U.S. Attorney's office got involved and decided to charge Shokrian with violations of the Clean Air Act.

Asbestos, a fiber that was commonly used in construction and all sorts of other products until the 1980s, becomes dangerous when people do stuff that breaks up its fibers and launches them into the air, like tearing down old buildings. Researchers say that asbestos exposure is the main cause of mesothelioma, a form of cancer that was rare until the use of asbestos exploded in the industrial age. It usually takes repeated exposure to develop the cancer, and the workers don't yet have it.

"Nothing has happened to the workers per se, although the effects from asbestos can take years to manifest as health problems," explains U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman Kathy Colvin via email.

Shokrian's dad, Elias, also paid $500,000 on behalf of Califco for the Clean Air Act violations. "We are not making any comments about anything, OK?," he said when reached by telephone at the Califco headquarters.

Records show that the younger Shokrian did eventually hire a more legit-looking company to remove the asbestos from the building. In 2010, a company called AMX Environmental said they performed the removal and then sent Califco a $10,000 invoice. Yet as of just a few months ago, in November, the company said they still hadn't been paid for those services and filed a lawsuit against Califco in civil court.

Meanwhile, people interested in ordering specialty underwear from a badass clean air violator can get a MeUndies monthly subscription for $16. This subscription guarantees that a single new undergarment will be delivered to your door step each month, perfect if you're the kind of monster who destroys your luxury underwear on a monthly basis. In an interview with MeUndies co-founder Barak Diskin, Shokrian explained to SocialTech that his background in property management is what helped him get MeUndies off the ground: "With our real estate contacts, we actually had lots of contacts in [product] fulfillment. We found someone we had worked with, and teamed up them."

We're guessing that those contacts Shokrian mentions aren't the day laborers who may or may not develop lung cancer in the future.

UPDATE:Shokrian, unhappy with this story, agreed to talk to Unfair Park this afternoon. He disputes the government's account of what happened. "I had no choice but to sign a lot of documents that misrepresented the truth" or risk more prison time, he says.

He says he worked on the building because the roof had collapsed, and that it was another Califco worker, construction manager Blaise McGinley, who examined its potential asbestos risks. McGinley determined the asbestos was a lower risk, non-friable type of asbestos, Shokrian claims, and he says he took McGinley at his word because "I had know idea about what friable or non-friable was" and McGinley's qualifications were that "he just finished a project where he was dealing with asbestos."(We left a Facebook message for McGinley).

"Blaise never told me that this could be harmful, I went into this building, I never wore a respirator myself," Shokrian adds.

Shokrian does take responsibility for the gasoline incident: "I do admit that wasn't the smartest thing to do, and that was my suggestion," though a follow-up email also hedges on that.

In an unsigned email from Shokrian's account, a person who says that they represent Shokrian and Califco writes that "the incident with the gasoline occurred while Jonathan was on a plane to New York. He was not supervising the operation. He had no idea how much gasoline was being used."


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58 comments
john_williams
john_williams

I worked for Jonathan @ MeUndies. He is a complete spas. This guy is always cutting corners and trying to get away with stuff.

bakerbrite
bakerbrite

The fishing wasn't so good the day you pulled this one outta the water. You obviously did not do your research when it comes to who Jonathan Shokrian actually is. Your closed mindedness and inability to write objectively is a disgrace to news and the Dallas Observer should be embarrassed to be represented by your harsh, judgmental opinions. MeUndies has nothing to do with this incident and it's unfortunate that Shokrian having to go through it.

UpsetReader
UpsetReader

@amy.silverstein

Your so-called "journalism" is a perfect example of work that completely disregards fundamentals of objectivity and fact-based information. Mr. Shokrian's current success as CEO of MeUndies has nothing to do with this unfortunate incident that occurred years ago. I question your motivation with this blatant opinion piece, and hope others are smart enough to do so as well.

CogitoErgoSum
CogitoErgoSum topcommenter

"Take dead aim on the rich boys. Get them in the crosshairs and take them down." -- Herman Blume, "Rushmore"

RaymondTusk
RaymondTusk

@amy.silverstein


What does MeUndies have to do with this? "bros with cool facebook pictures"?? 


And you're calling him a "hipster".. That's the self righteous, social media hating slander that screams hipster. Please spare us with your views on social media as you write your blog post article Ms. 'super awesome' tubing cover photo. 

Fred-dorfman76
Fred-dorfman76

This must be the EPA government overreach that Texas republicans are always whining about.

nbrent
nbrent

@amy.silverstein honestly how do you consider this an objective peace? As an article filed under "Environment" to go ahead and call this guy a hipster and overall keep an extremely judgmental undertone throughout the entire piece, boggles my mind. If you had any semblance of journalistic integrity you'd file this under opinion and keep it as such. Heck, do one better and keep it to yourself. Your motivation is obviously questionable and, quite frankly, there is enough negativity in this world already to take your opinions to the masses. Seriously, go get a hobby. 

James080
James080

I don't know this guy or anything about his company. He made a mistake, he did his time, and he moved on. Aren't there more important people we should spend our time mocking?


lemorton1
lemorton1

If it walks like a merkin, talks like a merkin, then it must be a...

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

good grief, he is selling boxers for $20 each. if "it is like American Apparel", they should be about $5 each, and he should not be out there exposing his employees to asbestos, he should be exposing himself to his employees like Dov Charney (allegedly) does!

nbrent
nbrent

How the hell is this being published? 

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

hopefully the undergarments aren't made from removed and recycled 'fibers'

tdkisok
tdkisok

If it talks, walks and acts like a douche bag.........well.......

CogitoErgoSum
CogitoErgoSum topcommenter

@bakerbrite  Yeah, poor little rich boy. Never mind that he decided to cut corners at the expense of some less important people's health.

CogitoErgoSum
CogitoErgoSum topcommenter

@UpsetReader @amy.silverstein  You clearly neither spend much time around here, nor understand the idea of an alt weekly local news blog. Keep on being upset, occasional reader. It's amusing.

MDavis
MDavis

@CogitoErgoSum


Rich boy? Jonathan Shokrian may be rich, but in addition he has acted as both an activist and philanthropist in more ways than any ignorant commenter making false accusations on this blog. Maybe "y'all" should start doing some credible reporting and stop reinforcing stereotypes. 

wcvemail
wcvemail

@RaymondTusk
Would you say that you're in high dudgeon? Or just somewhere lower down the dudgeon scale? 

Because you're the sort of $30K millionaire/trust-fund-baby that would bro this criminal douchenozzle, and then leap indignantly to his defense. I'll bet you brag whenever you can about being a member of the panty-per-period club, too.


So, high dudgeon, bro?

wcvemail
wcvemail

@nbrent

Would you say that you're in high dudgeon? I thought this so-called story was a waste of bytes, a sort of desperation post, until it got you fired up with righteous indignation in defending this criminal, bad-taste douchenozzle. Now it's worthwhile. 


So, high dudgeon? Or something lesser?

larslars
larslars

@James080  Asbestos exposure causes mesothelioma. Those workers may lose their lives because of this "miskate."

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@nbrent  

Exposure to asbestos is kind of a big deal. Has been for quite some time now.

Bad ju-ju if you are the person responsible for exposing someone('s) to it. That's news.

I am a little sickened just from my limited exposure to Shokrian via his picture and this story. 

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@tdkisok  we still need to know what he drives.  Has to be a Bimmer 3 series right?

RaymondTusk
RaymondTusk

@wcvemail  sure, call it dudgeon if it will make you happy, but that doesn't cloud my judgement here... I'm not trying to question the law or defend criminal offenses, simply want to keep the best damn underwear I've ever worn out of the conversation. Don't worry, it won't get my panties in a bunch that you probably still wear the same sht stained underwear your mother bought you when you were 14. To each their own. 


Oh, and feel free to throw around the 'bros', 'douchenozzles' (I can't believe I actually just typed that), and trustfund babies, because it takes one to know one, BRO. 

James080
James080

@larslars @James080 

Exposure to air born asbestos fibers may cause mesothelioma. He went to jail, what do you want, blood?

nbrent
nbrent

@TheCredibleHulk @nbrent  totally understand the news aspect, but to pretend like this isn't an obvious opinion piece is very questionable. 

RaymondTusk
RaymondTusk

@wcvemail can you afford to make bets like that? I hate to say it but it's a bit of all of them actually. Depending on the color of undies I get, I'll do Arnold, Tom, or sometimes I'll get risque and go for Will Smith from Independence Day. Unfortunately for those participating in the prop bet, the duck face has no place in those photos but if there were any side pots for fish face or invisible tea cup face someone could have just made a nice fortune. 


We have a bit of an office bet going here as well if you wouldn't mind lending your input for... Actually we don't, because no one gives a flying fck about you. 

wcvemail
wcvemail

@nbrent @wcvemail @RaymondTusk  Reading skills weren't available on daddy's credit card when you were younger, huh? I never called anyone a hipster, bro. Do you tools still trade manties after the new has worn off?

nbrent
nbrent

@wcvemail @RaymondTusk  Get your stereotypes straight and stick to them...a bro is very different than a hipster. You're making our life easy though, an asshole is the same in any language. 

wcvemail
wcvemail

@RaymondTusk 

Help us out on the office betting pool, will ya, bro? Most of the office is betting that when you mirror-flex in your new manties every month, you go Schwarzenegger, but a few of us are betting you go rock star, like Tom Cruise in "Risky Business." A couple of folks have a prop bet, too, saying that you're doing the duck face.

wcvemail
wcvemail

@RaymondTusk @wcvemail  
I feel sorry for tonight's bottle service lackey you're going to needlessly scold, and then under-tip, because someone had the nerve to print a news story about your underwear dealer, and then somebody else called you on your histrionics. Of course, the lackey won't notice any difference from any other night that you spend daddy's money on bottle service in hopes of maintaining bro status.

Oh, and GOT ONE! Thanks for playing, bro.

wcvemail
wcvemail

@nbrent @wcvemail  Not as weird as dudes who get off on each other's overpriced manties.

Oh, and GOT ONE! Thanks for playing, bro.

wcvemail
wcvemail

@nbrent @TheCredibleHulk  But there's nothing questionable about your pretense that you're only interested in classic journalism, bro. Had a lot invested in the manties business with the bro, I take it, at least a lot of reputation and bragging rights.

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