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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Corruption in NYC: Cranes Kill People in the City of Bribes

What has the issue of deadly cranes got to do with teacher abuse? Everything. New York City policies that permit false charges against teachers and falsified safety records kill people, harm families, and destroy lives. We know that former Buildings Commissioner Patricia Lancaster resigned, but what about The Others? Should James Delayo take the blame for Mayor Bloomberg, City Council, Assembly and Senate members who may (and were) contacted over the past several years about the corruption in the NYC Department of Buildings, and would not do anything? I spoke with Assistant DA Daniel Castleman in 2006 about the corruption going on in New York City in the real estate/financial/construction areas. He told me I was mistaken, and never responded to my letter dated January 26, 2006. This Mayoral collusion and racketeering club really is all about money.

N.Y. chief crane inspector arrested on bribery charges
William K. Rashbaum, New York Times, Saturday, June 7, 2008

(06-07) 04:00 PDT New York - --

The city's chief crane inspector was arrested Friday and charged with taking bribes to allow cranes to pass inspection, authorities said.

He was also accused of taking money from a crane company that sought to ensure that its employees would pass the required licensing exam.

The man, James Delayo, 60, (picture) the acting chief inspector for the Cranes and Derricks Unit at the city's Department of Buildings, supervised city licenses for crane operators.

The case against him, announced by the Manhattan district attorney's office and the city's Department of Investigation, was filed just a week after the city's second fatal crane collapse in less than three months.

Officials said the accusations against Delayo bore no direct relation to the accident last week on 91st Street and First Avenue, where two workers died, or a fatal crane accident that left seven dead in Midtown in March.

But the case was another blemish on a Buildings Department that has been reeling from construction deaths and inspection lapses this year, and for which deadly crane accidents are part of a lingering series of problems. The agency's commissioner resigned last month and Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been struggling to find a replacement to run a department that has long been plagued by corruption and where critics say an underpaid, inadequate staff of inspectors has been hard-pressed to deal with the city's building boom.

"This is a case where greed trumps safety," said Daniel Castleman, the chief assistant in the district attorney's office, which is also investigating the crane collapse last week. "With all the construction going on in New York City and the fatal accidents of the last few months, this type of conduct cannot and will not be tolerated."

Delayo surrendered Friday morning to investigators and was arraigned in Criminal Court in Manhattan on a complaint that said he had admitted Thursday to receiving the bribes. He was released on his own recognizance.

A Buildings Department spokeswoman said he would be suspended without pay.

The charges against Delayo include third-degree bribe-receiving and first-degree tampering with public records, both felonies for which he could face up to seven years in prison. Among the charges was the accusation that he had provided a copy of the crane operator's exam to a crane company in exchange for $3,000. An official involved in the case, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the charges had not yet been formally filed, said Delayo also provided the answers.

As the chief inspector, Delayo had responsibility for overseeing the inspection of all cranes, including tower cranes, the type that collapsed in the two recent fatal accidents.

The accusations against Delayo focus on smaller mobile cranes, known as Class C cranes.

A 26-year veteran of the Buildings Department, Delayo took bribes of "a couple of hundred dollars" in exchange for issuing licenses to about half a dozen Class C crane operators, including in one instance to a man who did not even take the test, according to the criminal complaint and the official involved in the case.

All of the operators worked for the company, Nu-Way Crane Service of Copiague, N.Y., that paid for the test and the answers, said the official. Investigators searched the offices of Nu-Way early Friday morning, seizing computers and records, the official said. A crane inspector's test was found there, but investigators were unsure if it was the one Delayo was accused of providing.

A city official said the Department of Buildings was suspending approvals for the company's cranes to operate and was evaluating the licenses issued to its operators.

Nu-Way did not respond to telephone messages left at the company's offices. An official with the company served last year on the Buildings Department's Cranes and Derricks Advisory Council.

Authorities also learned that Delayo signed off on the annual inspection of between 20 and 30 Class C cranes without conducting any examination in exchange for payment of "several hundred dollars" apiece, the official said.

Delayo, who lives in the Bronx, was promoted to acting chief inspector after the fatal crane accident in March. He makes $74,224 a year, an official said.

New York City crane inspector charged with taking bribes

Updated Saturday, June 7th 2008, 12:03 AM
James Delayo Hermann for News

The city's top crane inspector was charged Friday for taking thousands of dollars in bribes to falsify inspection reports and overlook unqualified operators.

The arrest of Assistant Chief Inspector James Delayo (picture) came amid citywide outrage over the death of two workers in a crane collapse on E. 91st St. last week.

It was the second fatal crane disaster this year. On March 15, a crane went down on E. 51st St., killing seven people.

The city Department of Investigation said there was no evidence Delayo's alleged corruption played any role in the two tragedies, but Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn said the case was still "extraordinary."

"The timing is shocking, and his rank is pretty shocking and the length of time he's been doing it," she said. "The crane people needed things from him, and they were willing to grease his palm to get what they needed."

Over eight years, Delayo took a total of about $10,000 in bribes, in payments ranging from $200 to $500, for falsely reporting he had inspected cranes, investigators said.

He also admitted to selling an applicant a copy of the license exam for $3,000, taking payoffs to give passing grades to individuals who had not taken the test, and helping workers cheat on the exam, probers said.

Delayo, 60, a 26-year veteran employee, makes $74,224 a year. He was promoted to acting chief of the Cranes and Derricks Unit in March, after the first crane collapse.

Delayo, who lives in the Bronx with his wife, is charged with taking bribes, tampering with public records and falsifying business records.

He faces a maximum of seven years if convicted on the top charge.

Gaunt and sporting a gray goatee, Delayo appeared haggard as he stood at his arraignment before Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Abraham Clott in a white shirt and ill-fitting, beltless jeans he held up with his thumbs.

He entered no plea and was released on his own recognizance. He is due back in court Oct. 7.

Delayo's bribe-taking involved operators of smaller mobile cranes, which are capable of hoisting loads only 13 stories, unlike the soaring tower cranes involved in the fatal collapses, according to investigators.

There are about 200 mobile cranes and 26 tower cranes operating in the city, the Buildings Department said.

The arrest came two days after Mayor Bloomberg stood with city, industry and union leaders to announce a tough package of construction reforms, including measures aimed at crane safety.

Bloomberg called the corruption "deplorable" in an agency charged with protecting the public. His first buildings commissioner, Patricia Lancaster, was forced to resign after the March crane disaster.

All of Delayo's bribes were paid by the owner or employees of a single crane company, Department of Inspections spokesperson Dianne Struzzi said.

Struzzi declined to name the company, but sources close to the investigation confirmed that the outfit is Nu-Way Crane Co. of Copiague, L.I.

The company is owned by Michael Sackaris, who was a member of the Buildings Department's Cranes and Derricks Advisory Board, which helps guide agency policies.

"I don't think he would do that," Sackaris' father, Jimmy, said at his Island Park, L.I., home. "He's never had an accident. He helps other guys out."

Michael Sackaris, who lives in St. James, L.I., declined to comment through his father.

Sackaris' name surfaced in a state Inspector General's probe into corruption in the state Labor Department's issuing of state crane operators licenses.

He was listed among 198 crane operators granted state licenses despite failing the practical exam.

The city issues crane operators licenses separately. State licenses are not valid in the city, which issues its own.

Delayo was the second crane inspector to be charged with a felony this year. Edward Marquette was arrested for allegedly lying about inspecting the crane involved in the March 15 disaster.
With Joe Gould and Richard Weir
NYC to track contractor safety after 'unacceptable' deaths

By AMY WESTFELDT, Associated Press Writer
June 4, 2008

The Bloomberg administration announced its latest set of construction safety recommendations Wednesday after an "unacceptably high" number of deaths this year, proposing a system that would track contractors' safety records and shut down the most serious offenders.

Several proposals had been announced in recent weeks as officials hired more buildings inspectors and appointed task forces to try and curb a spate of deadly construction accidents. Sixteen people have died this year, nine of them in two crane collapses over the past three months.

The package unveiled Wednesday included proposals for mandatory crane training for workers who "rig" cranes, an issue that critics said may have contributed to the March 15 crane collapse that killed seven people. No measure directly responded to the apparent failure of a rebuilt crane part that caused a crane to collapse on Friday, killing two workers. City officials said more crane safety proposals would be coming soon.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that "closing construction is not an option," but that the city's building boom couldn't compromise New Yorkers' safety.

"This year's unacceptably high number of construction fatalities underscores that we must do more," the mayor said.

The new proposals, announced with leading construction officials and City Council leaders who said they supported them, would require contractors to register and obtain a safety control number before obtaining permits to build. Contractors with "unacceptable" safety records would not be able to do business.

The mayor said issues like the amount of business a contractor has in the city would be a factor in deciding whether to revoke a license. "It's going to be a judgment call, based on how serious the violations are," he said.

The city also proposed allowing the department to assign a safety monitor to projects with poor safety records, raise penalties to $25,000 for violations like a tripping hazard, and fining building owners who don't report structural problems.

Workers on cranes would have to take a 30-hour safety course and be retrained every three years. Another proposal would restrict the use of nylon slings, which were involved in several construction accidents this year.

Scott Stringer, the Manhattan borough president, said the proposals made sense but said the beleaguered buildings department didn't have the staff to execute them.

"You're asking for more inspection, yet we don't have enough inspectors. You're asking for some very serious work that the Buildings Department has never been mandated to do before," he said.

Louis Coletti, president of the Buildings Trades Employers Association, said the construction industry and city had to work harder to restore its previous reputation for safety.

"What's happened in 2008," he said, "is purely unacceptable."

Top Crane Inspector Accused Of Taking Bribes
By Jonathan Dienst,
POSTED: 4:09 pm EDT June 6, 2008
UPDATED: 8:58 pm EDT June 6, 2008

NEW YORK -- The city's leading crane inspector was arrested Friday for allegedly taking thousands in bribes for the last eight years.

Assistant Chief James Delayo, 60, of the Department of Buildings (pictured above) was arrested and charged with bribe receiving, falsifying records and tampering with public documents.

Delayo did not respond to the allegations after his arraignment at Manhattan criminal court.

"DOI's investigation revealed the profoundly disturbing and sobering realization that a senior inspector responsible for ensuring that cranes operating in New York City are in proper condition ... is charged with selling out his own integrity in a way that compromised public safety," said Rose Gill Hearn, Commissioner of the Department of Investigation.

Officials said Delayo's corruption is not directly linked to last months crane collapse that killed two construction workers or the March 15 accident where seven people were killed. Those tower cranes were owned by the New York Crane Company.

Investigators said the bribes were paid by a Long Island crane company that specializes in mobile or truck based cranes. DOI did not name the firm Friday.

Investigators said Delayo gave out questions and answers in advance to crane operators seeking to pass certification. They said he also took $500 cash payments to re-certify cranes that had not been inspected.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg called the alleged corruption "deplorable" and said "bribery and fraud will be discovered and punished."

Delayo was acting as the city's chief crane inspector. Investigators now say they want to know if he acted alone or if any of the people he supervised are also taking payoffs. After the March 15 accident, a building inspector was arrested for allegedly falsifying inspection records.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said the corruption allegations swirling around the buildings department means inspection duties should be outsourced to a more competent agency. "This department does not have the capacity, the credibility and now the integrity to keep the city safe from falling cranes," Stringer said.

The Buildings Department's acting commissioner said he is outraged by the alleged corruption. He said his department is now undergoing a "full operational overhaul." He said his office is working with DOI to root out corruption, has expanded integrity checks and the department has a strict no gift rule.

As for Delayo, he is a 24 year inspector. In 1982, records show he "approved for use" a crane that later fell along Madison Avenue and East 53rd Street. One person was killed and 16 were injured. A report at that time blamed in part the company and human error, not the inspector, for the accident. Buildings Department officials said they are now reviewing Delayo's work history.

Investigators have been reviewing the work of inspectors since the March 15 accident. Officials said Delayo's alleged corruption was revealed through a tip they received earlier this week. As assistant chief, his salary is $74,000 a year officials said.

The Associated Press reported Delayo also worked part-time as a crane inspector on the cleanup of the 2001 World Trade Center attack, putting in about four hours a day from Sept. 12 until May of the following year.

He is now suing the private companies that apparently employed him, claiming he was sickened by toxic air and dust. According to federal court papers, Delayo has suffered respiratory problems like coughing and shortness of breath since his time on the pile of rubble.

A Buildings Department spokeswoman could not say whether Delayo was moonlighting or was on the site as part of his city job, and said the matter was under investigation.

If convicted, he could face up to 7 years in prison.
NYC Buildings Department Integrity Initiatives:

• Formed DOI Partnership: Buildings is unique among the City agencies in that it has an on-going, close, open door partnership with DOI to eliminate corruption in the industry and within the Department. In 2004, The Buildings Special Investigation Unit was created to investigate complaints and allegations of wrongdoing within the construction industry.

• Adopted Most Restrictive Gift Rules in the City: While the City Charter allows City employees to receive items worth $50.00 in value, DOB adopted and enforced the most restrictive gift rules, with a $0 gift rule policy. Employees are not even allowed to accept a cup of coffee.

• Created the First Code of Conduct: In 2004, the Agency’s first plain language guide for ethical and professional behavior was created. Employees are not even allowed to accept a cup of coffee. Over 10,000 copies have been distributed to those in the construction industry.

• Created Extensive Integrity Checks for New Employees. All prospective candidates for employment at Buildings must undergo a thorough background check by DOI as well as meet internal standards set by our Internal Audits and Discipline. In 2007, 21% of the applications received for all titles within the Department were denied and 42% of all applications received for inspectorial titles were denied. Grounds for denial include: failure to disclose arrest information, failure to verify education requirements and failure to cooperate with the background check.

• Instituted Annual Mandatory Integrity Training. Unlike other City agencies, all new and existing DOB employees are required to attend an annual integrity training. This includes education from COIB, DOI and our Internal Audits and Discipline unit.

• Internal Stings. The Department’s Internal Audits and Discipline unit serves to monitor Buildings employees for misconduct and liaise with DOI as desired. IAD monitors computer usage, performs undercover work to assist in sting operations and monitors inspectors undercover to ensure integrity in the agency’s daily operations.

• Internet Licensee Search. In 2007, the Department added a license search feature to its website that provides easy access to construction professionals’ licensing and registration information. This search tools enables the public to easily determine if contractor’s licenses are active, to know the firms with which they are associated with and if they’re in good standing with the Department.

April 22, 2008
As Construction Deaths Rise, Buildings Chief Faces Scrutiny
Corrections Appended

The sleek glass tower at 51st Street and Second Avenue, where a crane collapse last month killed seven, rises 18 stories, nearly halfway to its promise of 43 stories, 180 luxury apartments and panoramic views of the city.

But with work stopped at the site, the city now says that the building’s design violated four local zoning regulations and that the Buildings Department should never have issued the original permits in the first place.

Those problems came as no surprise to a group of local residents and politicians: they said they raised questions about the tower’s height several times over the past 18 months. But the department did not investigate until January, after the developer’s own lender asked for a letter reaffirming city approval.

“You have a Buildings Department that seems more interested in preserving the rights of developers at the expense of citizens and the community,” said Bruce Silberblatt, a retired contractor and a member of the Turtle Bay Association who was among the first to complain.

The problems with the building, 303 East 51st Street, come as the Buildings Department is under fire for a spike in fatal construction accidents this year and other high-profile problems. To the department’s critics, the mishandled permits also raise sharp new questions about Buildings Commissioner Patricia J. Lancaster, an architect hired by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to modernize the 1,286-person agency.

On Monday, Mayor Bloomberg did little to quell the criticism of Ms. Lancaster, breaking with his customary habit of staunchly defending his commissioners from public criticism.

“I don’t think anybody should be fully satisfied with the Department of Buildings’ performance,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “Whether somebody could have done a better job — I’m trying to — whether they could have done a better job I just don’t know,” he continued, groping for words.

Saying he understood the dangers of construction work and the complexities of regulating the city’s thousands of construction sites, he added: “But that’s not an excuse.”

The city is not threatening to tear down the 51st Street building, and the developer asserts that the zoning problems can be resolved through negotiations. But city officials said some changes to the design were possible.

In a telephone interview, Ms. Lancaster, 54, defended her record, saying that she had modernized the department in the midst of an unprecedented building boom, imposed integrity standards, hired and trained hundreds of employees and made records accessible to the public. Last year, the department issued 9,929 full or partial stop-work orders at construction sites for safety-related problems.

“In order to enact reforms, you have to lay a foundation,” she said during the interview. “In order to be able to enforce or bring court cases, you have to have lawyers. You can’t have vacancies and no training. And so, we’ve been building that foundation, as well as getting increased penalties.”

In 2002, Ms. Lancaster inherited a department where older records were stored above ceiling tiles, 19 of 24 plumbing inspectors had been arrested on corruption charges, the computers at its Staten Island office crashed almost daily at 3 p.m. and more than 250 positions went unfilled.

Even her fiercest critics say that Ms. Lancaster has had some success in turning around a long-neglected department, putting public records on the Internet, overhauling the city’s often confusing and outdated building code, and instituting measures to ensure the integrity of its reviews. But those critics say that the administration has starved the department of resources and focused on spurring construction as part of the economic development, at the expense of safety.

“She has done many things to make the department more effective,” said James F. Brennan, a Brooklyn assemblyman who has been critical of the department and is planning a hearing on regulation and enforcement of construction and development for Thursday. “But in relation to what’s happening in construction, the department was always behind the curve, and the overriding interest was development.”

A spate of fatal accidents has highlighted the department’s challenge. This year, there have been 13 fatalities at construction sites in the city, including the seven on Second Avenue, compared with 12 during all of 2007. The victims included a window installer who fell from a condominium tower on the East Side of Manhattan when a safety strap failed and a construction worker who fell 42 stories from the Trump SoHo condominium hotel in January.

In another case, investigators found after the 2007 fire at the former Deutsche Bank building near ground zero that building inspectors had failed to detect numerous violations, including the dismantling of a standpipe that would have carried water to firefighters at the top of the building.

The tower on East 51st Street was largely unknown to New Yorkers until March 15, when a 22-story crane collapsed on the site, killing seven and injuring 24 others, while forcing the evacuation of hundreds from their homes.

The planned tower had already been the subject of complaints by local residents and officials. Under questioning last week at a City Council hearing concerning crane safety, Ms. Lancaster said only that the building proposal should not have been approved because it did not conform to zoning regulations. In an interview on Friday, a Buildings Department official said the crane was too tall for its location.

“Wow,” responded Councilwoman Jessica S. Lappin, who represents the neighborhood and whose question triggered the response. “You’re telling me this building should never have been approved in the first place.”

“That is correct,” the commissioner replied.

At the same hearing, the commissioner was dismissive of complaints about the tower from local residents. “I think the community doesn’t want the building at all,” she said. “In fact, that property owner has property rights like anybody else who owns property and can build a building there.”

Ms. Lappin was surprised and disappointed, she said, because residents had been raising questions about the height of the tower for some time. In December, a community group, the Turtle Bay Association, received only perfunctory responses to two letters it sent to the Buildings Department raising questions about the zoning, as well as balconies and affordable housing.

Ms. Lappin and Assemblyman Jonathan L. Bing then arranged for a Feb. 19 meeting with Christopher Santulli, the Buildings Department official in charge of Manhattan. Mr. Santulli promised to get back to them and to provide them with the developer’s building plans. They are still waiting.

Now, Ms. Lappin said the Buildings Department appeared to be agreeing with the residents. But in an interview on Friday, Phyllis Arnold, the department’s deputy commissioner for legal affairs, said that the department had reviewed the zoning and building permits for the project earlier this year in response to a request from the developer’s lenders, not the local officials or the community group.

Ms. Arnold said that the zoning for the site allowed for a 33-story tower atop a broad base, not the sheer, 43-story tower for which the developer received approval. In addition, the tower was found to be too close to an adjoining four-story building owned by the developer.

To resolve those issues, she said, the department told the developer, James P. Kennelly, that he must include a space for community use, like a school, clinic or doctor’s office, to bring the tower into compliance with the zoning. He was also required to reduce the size of the small buildings that sit in front of the tower on Second Avenue, which are owned by a separate company related to the developer.

Mr. Kennelly said he submitted his initial plans for a full review and received a building permit last October. In response to the department’s review in February, he said he submitted a new set of plans by early March.

But, Mr. Kennelly said, he knew nothing about another issue raised by Ms. Arnold: the balconies on his tower intrude over an adjoining property. “At no point did anyone from Buildings have a question or a quandary about balconies,” he said.

Ms. Lappin said she had been saddened by the whole affair.

“I’m not sure why D.O.B. is bending over backwards to find every which way for him to build what he wants, as opposed to building what is legal and appropriate” she said.

For her part, Ms. Lancaster said she thought she would be given enough time to finish reforming her department.

“I serve at the pleasure of the mayor, and I have a lot of work to do in the next 619 days,” she said. “I took this job to make a difference to the city, and I’m pretty clear that I’m still focused on that.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: April 23, 2008
An article on Tuesday about the growing scrutiny faced by Patricia J. Lancaster, New York City’s buildings commissioner, after a series of fatal construction accidents misstated the source and timing of a revelation that an East Side building that was the site of a fatal crane accident last month was too tall for its location. That statement was made by a Buildings Department official in an interview on Friday, not by Ms. Lancaster during a City Council hearing on Thursday. (At the hearing, Ms. Lancaster would say only that the building proposal should not have been approved because it did not conform to zoning regulations.)

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: May 15, 2008
An article on April 22 about the growing scrutiny faced by Patricia J. Lancaster, then New York City’s buildings commissioner, after a series of fatal construction accidents misstated the location of one accident, in which a window installer fell from a condominium tower when a safety strap failed. The tower is on the East Side of Manhattan, not in Queens.

April 22, 2008
BREAKING: Buildings Commissioner Lancaster Resigns Amid Mayor's Unhappiness with Buildings Department

During a press conference yesterday, Mayor Bloomberg said, "I don’t think anybody should be fully satisfied with the Department of Buildings’ performance. Whether somebody could have done a better job — I’m trying to — whether they could have done a better job I just don’t know."

The Mayor's criticism lies squarely with his hire, architect turned Buildings Commissioner Patricia Lancaster. Last week, Lancaster admitted that the Turtle Bay construction site where six construction workers and one civilian died when a crane collapsed into neighboring buildings should never have been approved because of issues with the plans (the building could have been approved in a different design, though).

Bloomberg also finally admitted that the construction boom should not be an excuse for more fatalities (there have been a "dozen fatal construction accidents in the first half of the year, compared to the same number last year"). Lancaster defended her record to the Times, pointing out she's been building a "foundation" in order to reform a department that was full of corruption when she arrived in 2002.

And Bloomberg has acknowledged Lancaster's accomplishments, like raising the number of buildings inspectors from 277 to 400. But he said, "Simply shrugging your shoulders and saying `Well, after all, construction work is a dangerous occupation,' is behavior that will not be tolerated from anyone."

UPDATE: Lancaster turned in her resignation this morning to Mayor Bloomberg, who accepted it. Bloomberg made a point of saying how she "moved the Department of Buildings a long way forward by fighting corruption, strengthening inspections and oversight, increasing the public's access to information, and bringing increased levels of professionalism and integrity to all levels of her agency" and overhauled the building code.

Lancaster said, "I am proud of the groundbreaking work the department has done during my tenure to root out corruption, increase transparency, overhaul the building code, and increase safety for workers and the public alike." Their full statements are after the jump.

Statement by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg:
"This morning, I met with Patricia Lancaster at Gracie Mansion and accepted her resignation as New York City's Buildings Commissioner. Over the past six years, Patricia has moved the Department of Buildings a long way forward by fighting corruption, strengthening inspections and oversight, increasing the public's access to information, and bringing increased levels of professionalism and integrity to all levels of her agency. Patricia led a comprehensive overhaul of the City's byzantine building code, the first in 40 years, which will make the construction of homes, schools, stores and offices in New York City safer, more affordable, and more environmentally friendly for years to come. Patricia leaves a strong foundation of reform and improvement for her successors to build on, and I thank her for her dedication to making New York City a far better place to live, work, and visit."

Statement by Commissioner Patricia J. Lancaster:

"Today I submitted my resignation, which Mayor Bloomberg accepted. It has been an honor serving in his Administration and I thank the Mayor for this opportunity. After six years in public service, I made this decision because I felt it was time to return to the private sector. I am proud of the groundbreaking work the department has done during my tenure to root out corruption, increase transparency, overhaul the building code, and increase safety for workers and the public alike. My message today to the talented and capable staff at the Department of Buildings is to keep up the hard work: you've made so much important progress. It has been my distinct pleasure working with you."

April 18, 2008
Buildings Department Approved Collapsed Crane's Building Plans in Error

Here's a big WTF: Buildings Commissioner Patricia Lancaster told the City Council yesterday that plans for 303 East 51st Street, the site where a crane collapsed into surrounding buildings and caused the deaths of seven people, were accidentally approved by the department. Apparently the 43-story building's design didn't comply with zoning requirements for the area, and Lancaster "blamed the error on the unnamed plan examiner."

At the time of the March 15 collapse, when a crane broke free of the building and fell south into other building and leveling one townhouse, the Buildings Department and developer James Kennelly were discussing the mistakenly approved plans. Of course, it's very possible the building could have been approved in another design, but this exchange between Lancaster and the Council is priceless. From the Times:

Ms. Lancaster said the building under construction had been approved “not in accordance with the zoning regulation.”

“Wow,” said Councilwoman Jessica S. Lappin, whose district includes the site of the crane collapse. “You’re telling me this building should never have been approved in the first place?”

“That is correct,” Ms. Lancaster replied.

City Councilman Tony Avella also ripped into Lancaster, "The leadership of your agency has to go. The agency is clearly out of control. Nothing ever changes. People are dying."

Lancaster explained after the hearing that the zoning issues were complicated, "It's a combination of building laws and tax laws and how you can combine them and how you can't." The Buildings Department also announced that 21 of 29 cranes passed inspection. The eight cranes that didn't were, according to Bloomberg News, at the Goldman Sach site, the Trump Soho building, 8 Spruce St., 123 Washington St., 453 West 37th St., 400 East 67th St., 80 Riverside Blvd., and 1431 Second Ave.

April 18, 2008 -- The East Side building project where a crane collapsed, killing seven people, shouldn't have been granted a construction permit, the city admitted yesterday.
Buildings Commissioner Patricia Lancaster (picture above) told angry City Council members that the project at 303 E. 51st St. should have been rejected due to a complex violation of zoning rules.

"Wow," City Councilwoman Jessica Lappin (D-Manhattan) said. "This building should never have been approved. That is beyond shocking."

Councilman Tony Avella (D-Queens) was angrier.

"The leadership of your agency has to go," he told the commissioner. "The agency is clearly out of control. Nothing ever changes. People are dying."

The council was looking into the March 15 accident in which a 20-story construction crane collapsed into several buildings.

Lappin, whose district includes the neighborhood, cited a letter she and Assemblyman Jonathan Bing wrote Lancaster on Dec. 21 that noted community opposition to the project and asked her to re-examine the zoning permit.

She and others demanded that Lancaster and her senior counsel, Stephen Kramer, explain what went wrong. But they refused to go into detail pending the end of an investigation.

Kramer said the problem with the permit apparently wasn't discovered until after the accident.

A Buildings Department spokesman later said that the problem was actually found beforehand but that there was no stop-work order issued because the builder was working to meet zoning rules.

Outside the hearing, Lancaster indicated the permit problem was technical.

"It's a combination of building laws and tax laws and how you can combine them and how you can't," she said.

Also yesterday, Lancaster announced that inspections she ordered of all tower cranes after the accident revealed that eight of 29 were not in compliance with safety rules and "were immediately shut down."

Seven were allowed to resume operating after the violations were corrected. One of three cranes at 200 Murray St., the site of the new Goldman Sachs headquarters, has been shut down since April 10.

The contractor failed to brace the crane at the 42nd and 43rd floors with tie-ins that complied with approved plans, the city said.

An architect was badly hurt by falling debris at the Goldman Sachs site in December.

March 21, 2008 --
A city inspector, charged with ensuring the safety of the giant crane whose catastrophic collapse killed seven people last Saturday, admitted that he lied about checking the equipment, authorities said yesterday.

Edward J. Marquette, 46, of Hell's Kitchen, (picture at right) was arraigned in Manhattan Criminal Court yesterday on counts of falsifying business records and filing a false instrument that could bring a four-year prison term.

"Good!" said a relative of Anthony Mazza, 39, a construction worker killed in the collapse.

The relative, who asked not to be named, said she is relieved by the investigation's early success.

Marquette was released without bail.

He was assigned to inspect the crane at 303 E. 51st St. on March 4 after a retired building contractor reported to 311 the crane did not appear to be properly attached to the building.

"Caller states crane does not appear to be braced to the building. There are only tie-backs on five or six floor[s], but upper part which is 100 feet up is unsecured," a Buildings Department complaint form said.

Marquette filed a report stating he inspected the crane and found it safe.

"No violation warranted for complaint at time of inspection," he reported.

Inspectors also checked the 164-ton crane last Friday, the day before it collapsed at about the 19th story of a luxury hi-rise under construction. No problems were found.

Two nylon straps were believed to have snapped during the hoisting operation on Saturday, sending a six-ton metal collar plunging. That collar hit bracing that held the crane to the side of the building, causing the collapse.

The straps were not at the scene Friday and thus weren't checked by inspectors, Buildings Commissioner Pat Lancaster said.

The day after the collapse, Marquette told probers he had indeed inspected the crane and had found no problems.

But after the Department of Investigation developed information that "cast doubt" on his claim, Marquette confessed he never visited the site on March 4 and that his report was a fake. He was arrested Wednesday.

All of Marquette's crane inspections for the last six months are being investigated. Marquette, who has been suspended, has worked for the Buildings Department since 2001and makes $52,283 a year.

He appeared in court yesterday disheveled in a dirty black T-shirt, baggy blue jeans and black work boots. Asked whether he felt responsible for the tragedy, he said, "No comment."

Lancaster said even if Marquette hadn't lied, the tragedy likely would've happened.

"It's highly unlikely that a March 4 inspection would have prevented the horrific accident that happened on March 15," she said. "We are still looking at probable cause being mechanical failure and/or human failure."

Elected officials weren't satisfied with her response.

"This is beyond outrageous," said Councilwoman Jessica Lappin, who represents the neighborhood. "Somebody called 311 because they saw what they thought was an unsafe situation with the crane.

"We don't know what this inspector would have seen," she said. "He didn't come."

City records show Marquette inspected the crane in January after a safety problem was called in. Marquette reported that he visited the site Jan. 22.

"No violation warranted for complaint at time of inspection," he reported.

Two other complaints were filed about the crane, on Jan. 10 and Feb. 8, by people who said it lacked proper permits. City inspectors found both times that the permits were valid.

Buildings inspectors began a sweep of construction cranes this week and by last night had found two violations downtown.

Work was ordered stopped at a construction site at 200 Murray St. - Goldman Sachs' new headquarters - because the crane was being operated by someone not identified on its city permit, a Buildings Department spokeswoman said.

A few blocks away, at 123 Washington St., inspectors found pins missing from the bottom of a crane being used to build a hotel.

Meanwhile, family and friends of Mazza last night brought wreaths and candles to the scene of the accident.

"He died doing what he loved," his sister, Brenda, told The Post. "He was a pure, gentle, sincere, very family oriented man."

His cousin, Sondra Jackson, said, "We can't forget how funny he was. He made people feel loved."

Added Mazza's best friend, Anthony Coluoci, "I'm going to miss him so much."

Additional reporting by Christina Carrega


March 23, 2008 -- Two inspectors assigned to check the crane that killed seven when it collapsed last week were far less likely than their colleagues to cite contractors for breaking city rules, a Post analysis of city data found.
Edward Marquette, accused of faking a March 4 inspection of the doomed crane on East 51st Street, found just one violation in the 38 citizen complaints he was assigned to investigate last year, city records show - a violation rate of 2.6 percent.

And Frank Damiani, who inspected the crane on March 14, the day before the disaster, wrote one violation while inspecting 52 complaints - a rate of 1.9 percent.

Their work compares with a violation rate of about 5 percent in the Department of Building's entire Division of Cranes and Derricks, which in 2007 investigated 580 complaints and issued about 30 violations.

It's unclear why the two men came up with fewer violations than their colleagues. City officials say they're now reviewing the procedures of the entire Cranes and Derricks unit, which is budgeted to have nine inspectors and one supervisor.

"As the investigation into the accident continues and we analyze the results of our crane inspection sweep, we will determine if other measures need to be taken or our procedures revised to ensure the safety of the public," Buildings Commissioner Patricia Lancaster said.

The few problems found came despite complaints that were often highly detailed.

Marquette's assigned complaints included:

* Jan 10, 2007: A caller warned of men working at 316 W. 39th St. without harnesses or safety lines on scaffolding not braced to the building. Marquette reported "no work being performed at time of inspection."

* May 1, 2007: A caller complained of unsafe crane operation and no permit for rigging across the street from 10 Columbus Circle. Marquette reported "no crane found at location at time of inspection."

The only violation Marquette issued came on Jan. 28, 2007, when he found scaffolding installed without a permit at 2865 Kingsbridge Terrace in The Bronx.

In all, Marquette reported he couldn't find any cranes at seven sites where callers warned about dangers - including blocked sidewalks that were forcing pedestrians into the street and cranes being operated without any safety scaffolding underneath.

At the sites of eight other complaints, Marquette reported finding no work going on or that work was finishing when he arrived.

Seven times he reported no violations because all necessary permits were valid or the crane was erected as approved - including on the March 4 inspection he's accused of faking.

Marquette also wrote stop-work orders in five complaints, including two Feb. 7, when glass fell from the Bank of America building on Sixth Avenue during the dismantling of a crane.

Damiani reported 36 instances where no violation was issued after callers complained about potential danger because he couldn't find a crane, scaffolding or workers.

Additional reporting by Kathianne Boniello and Bill Sanderson

Mayor Bloomberg initiates safety measures

See also:
Crane Construction Site Recently Cited For Violations
Staten Island Ferry Official Covered Up Negligence, and Mayor Bloomberg Will Have the Public Support Him ( 2004 article)
and, the use of church property to finance construction and real estate deals:
Without a Prayer For Relief: The NY State Supreme Court is Bought By Guide One Insurance Company and a Church, Madison Avenue Presbyterian

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