Three New York City construction officials indicted and arraigned on Dec. 22 in connection with a fatal fire at a vacant Ground Zero high-rise being cleaned of asbestos and demolished posted bail and will reappear in court in Manhattan on Jan. 7. Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau charged the officials, including the site safety manager for project contractor Bovis Lend Lease LLC, with manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and reckless endangerment. The charges relate to their alleged roles in the August 2007 fire at the Deutsche Bank building that killed two city firefighters.
Indicted were Bovis official Jeffrey Melofchik, lead project-safety manager; Mitchel Alvo, abatement director for The John Galt Corp., the Bronx, N.Y., demolition subcontractor; and Salvatore DePaola, a Galt foreman and believed to be a member of laborers’ union Local 79 in New York City. The Galt firm also was indicted. The building, adjacent to the World Trade Center, was damaged on Sept. 11, 2001. Killed in 2007 were Robert Beddia and Joseph Graffagnino.
The indictment accuses the defendants of being aware of or causing an inoperable building standpipe and not reporting it. The situation hampered firefighting and rescue efforts. The defendants face up to 15 years in prison on two manslaughter charges, up to four years on two negligent-homicide charges and one year on the reckless-endangerment charge. They pleaded not guilty on Dec. 22 and were each released on bail ranging from $175,000 to $250,000.
“In summary, everyone failed at the Deutsche Bank building,” said Morgenthau. He also severely rubuked the city’s fire and buildings departments for oversight lapses as well as its owner, the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. It approved hiring Galt, despite its alleged ties to organized crime.
Bovis escaped direct prosecution but did not challenge Morgenthau’s “factual conclusions” and agreed to terminate Melofchik and other site safety managers. Melofchik attorney Edward J.M. Little says his client is a “scapegoat” and “is confident he will be vindicated.” Bovis and the city also agreed to take “remedial actions.” The firm will hire a new senior manager reporting to its CEO to supervise fire safety at all city projects and will elevate responsibility for all New York work to its chief operating officer. An independent monitor, approved by the district attorney and funded by Bovis, will also oversee safety and subcontractor hiring procedures. The contractor also agreed to fund a $2-million “fire-safety academy” for contractors. The city agreed to create a new 25-person fire-safety inspection unit in the Fire Dept. to focus “exclusively” on buildings being constructed, demolished, improved or abated in New York City.