Two men pleaded guilty Thursday to unlawfully removing asbestos from the former Zurbrugg Memorial Hospital in Riverside, operating without a license, and putting untrained workers at risk.

Frank J. Rizzo, 55, of Parlin, N.J., pleaded guilty to second-degree conspiracy before Superior Court Judge James W. Palmer Jr. in Burlington County, according to the state Attorney General's Office. The state will recommend three years in prison.

Michael Kouvaras, 61, of Maplewood, N.J., pleaded guilty to third-degree violation of the Asbestos Control and Licensing Act. The state will recommend that he be sentenced to 364 days in jail as a condition for probation.

The defendants admitted that through Deuteron Capital L.L.C., doing business as South Street Fillit Recycling of Riverside, they illegally removed asbestos without a license and illegally disposed of it at the Zurbrugg site.

"These two men showed an utter disregard for the health and safety of the workers they hired, as well as the residents living near this site," Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman said. "We will not tolerate contractors who ignore our laws and put the public in danger to turn a profit."

The state's investigation revealed that the men had unlicensed workers, including inmates from Clinton House, a work-release halfway house in Trenton, remove asbestos from sections of the hospital. The defendants directed the workers to bury bags of asbestos in the ground and dump bags of asbestos on a boiler room floor to make it look as if the building had been vandalized. The workers did not wear protective gear.

Rizzo and Kouvaras are scheduled to be sentenced April 25.

856-779-3893 @ritagiordano