Sunday, June 29, 2008
Dirty Tricks Scandal at Local 157 – Part Four
With all the controversy continuing to swirl around the Trusteeship of Local 157, an important question remains. What did D’Errico know and when did he know it? There have been many different versions of an answer to this question put forth by sources close to D'Errico, but so far the newly appointed so-called “leader” and candidate for president of local 157 has avoided being questioned or held accountable in connection to the corruption in local 157.
In a still sealed report, (because it involves an ongoing investigation) to the District Council dated November 13, 2007 issued by the Independent Investigator, William Callahan describing the allegations relating to Local 157 stated, among other things, that "the local is in disarray and a missed managed mess where business representatives come and go as they please doing little if any work and following few if any rules."
In a letter dated December 5, 2007 addressed to the membership of Local 157, District Council EST Mike Forde said, “business representatives (which we now know were Bill Hanley, George Dilacio, Fred Kennedy and Danny Demorato) assigned to work in Local 157 were not performing their jobs in the manner expected of them by the District Council and that they had, in other respects, acted inconsistently with the standards expected of District Council employees."
On December 11, 2007 UBC Eastern District VP Frank Spencer said, “Local 157 is an atrocious mess where the left hand don’t know what the right hand is doing.”
Lawrence D’Errico is the Recording Secretary of Local 157, Labor Trustee for the NYCDCC Benefit Funds and one of the five business representatives assigned to local 157. Mr. D'Errico was a part of this "disarray, atrocious, missed managed mess", "where the left hand did'nt know what the right hand was doing,” who witnessed daily, the other four business representatives "doing little if any work, following few if any rules, not performing their jobs and acting inconsistently with the standards expected of District Council employees."
D'Errico has been accused of defrauding the membership, enabling and covering-up acts of corruption and using union funds to promote himself through the locals official newsletter and website. Rank and file members are expected to file formal charges against D'Errico for "Defrauding the Brotherhood."
Sources said council insiders close to District Council President Thomassen tipped off D’Errico to the hot line call and D’Errico knew about the pending investigation of local 157. D’Errico has insisted he was “never tipped off to the investigation and has no recollection or knowledge about the activities of the other four business representatives.”
Informed sources maintain that D’Errico knew and helped orchestrate the events that brought down the local officials, “when you speak to Lawrence he can’t look you in the eye”, this source said. Is it "consistent with the standards expected of a council employee" to witness, enable, cover-up and keep silent about acts of wrong doing?
Mr. D’Errico would have you believe that somehow he worked in a self-imposed bubble with blinders over his eyes and was unaware of the day to day functioning and activities of the other local business representatives, day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year. This not only defies logic and common sense, it is absurd.
Mr. D’Errico would also have you believe that it was not his responsibility to keep record of the other business representative’s time, whereabouts or activities and because his time records were accounted for and accurate that somehow excuses him of his trust, fiduciary duty and obligation by law, from acting in any manner adverse or contrary to the interest of the membership of this union. Again this defies logic, common sense and is absurd.
Mr. D’Errico also believes that the membership should just “trust” him and not raise any questions or issues concerning the trusteeship or the events that led up to it, especially on this blog. This also defies logic, common sense and is absurd; D’Errico has stated he is "running for president of local 157," he has avoided being questioned or held accountable about his direct knowledge of the corruption in local 157. The membership of Local 157 has the right and duty to question and hold elected officials accountable.
Lastly, Mr. D'Errico is claiming ignorance as a defense after finding himself at the center of the worst corruption scandal in the history of the carpenters union. By being ignorant and turning a blind eye D'Errico has seriously violated his fiduciary duty and trust and has contributed, enabled and encouraged acts of corruption to fester and flourish.
So if Mr. D’Errico knew enough about the business representatives daily work, constantly praising their hard work and efforts, weekly to our shop stewards and monthly at our union meetings, why does he now say he has "no recollection or knowledge" about what these business representatives ever did?
Here is a fact of my own, these words are nothing new. They reflect who Mr. D’Errico is and who he has always been. It all comes down to honesty and believability. There is a lesson I assumed all union leaders have learned from Watergate, the cover-up is always worse than the original offense.
Series at a glance:
Week one: The Set-Up, Union Politics
Week two: The Sting, Callahan’s Investigation
Week three: The Trusteeship, Defrauding the Membership
Week four: The Cover Up, What Did D’Errico Know and When Did He Know It
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Heard on the Street…Lawrence D’Errico who is running for president of local 157 is expected to name business agent Danny Demorato as his vice president. Demorato aka “The Forger”, "The Slug", "Danny Bag of Donuts" was suspended for two-weeks and reassigned to local 608 on November 21, 2007 in connection with his involvement in the corruption scandal that led to the trusteeship of local 157.
Demorato served as Local 157 Trustee and Delegate to the District Council. From January to October 2007 Demorato falsified time records and activity sheets to cover-up corruption then pleaded with council leaders for his job saying he will "never do it again."
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Sunday, June 22, 2008
Dirty Tricks Scandal at Local 157 – Part Three
On November 26, 2007 UBC Eastern District Vice President Frank Spencer assumed the position of supervisor of the trusteeship of local 157. Spencer quickly supported without question, business representative Lawrence D'Errico as the new so called “leader” of local 157.
At a meeting with the elected officers of local 157 on December 11, 2007, Spencer questioned and criticized the rank and file elected officers but was strangely silent and did not have a word or question for D’Errico, who sat stoned cold silent as Spencer describe the local as an “atrocious mess where the left hand don't know what the right hand is doing."
D’Errico is the only remaining local 157 business representative who worked in this "atrocious mess" who allegedly witnessed, enabled and covered-up the wrong doing in local 157. To date D'Errico has avoided being questioned or held accountable in connection to the corruption in local 157.
Spencer removed all of the elected officers of local 157 without charges ever being filed and said "new officers will be appointed", which is in violation of the UBC constitution.
Spencer canceled the monthly membership meetings and the annual Christmas party—a move that really added insult to injury.
Spencer also froze all of the local’s bank accounts and had the district council pay all of the local union’s bills. He also replaced the local’s accountant with the council’s accountants. None of which is required under the LMRDA Trusteeship requirements.
Outraged members questioned the district councils involvement in the supervision, “why is the council paying the locals bills when the only thing the LMRDA regulations limit is the ability of the International to move money out of the local, it does not require the International to freeze the local’s accounts and stop them from paying their own bills.”
Members also questioned the reason for the trusteeship. “If Hanley and Kennedy resigned, Dilacio fired, Demorato remove and no accusation of financial impropriety or other fraud was found, what is the reason for the continued trusteeship?”
The membership was completely left in the dark, "Nobody knows what the hell is going on," griped a veteran carpenter.
The only source of information was provided by this very unofficial blog. You'd think that in the age of websites and blogs, the details of this coup would have been shared with the membership sooner rather than later.
On February 25, 2008 nearly three months after the takeover of local 157 Spencer authorized “Local 157 Connection”, the official newsletter of Local 157 to be mailed out to the 4500 member local giving some details of the trusteeship.
The newsletter had reports from VP Spencer, EST Forde and D'Errico that falsely stated to the membership, among other things, Local 157 now has "new leadership."
Spencer wrote “New leaders will work for you. With key local offices vacant, supervision enables your local union leaders to restore members’ trust, and Lawrence D’Errico has a solid team working for Local 157 now.”
Forde wrote "During this challenging time of reorganization, new appointments have been made to your local’s "leadership," Lawrence D’Errico has been appointed as the new Business Manager and we have assigned members Anthony Pugliese and Ramadan Ibric as Business Agents.”
D’Errico wrote “We will move this great local forward. I look forward to working with the new leaders of our membership.”
Spencer, Forde and D’Errico all have been criticized for violating the UBC constitution and the LMRDA regulations for administrating a trusteeship and for defrauding the membership into thinking D’Errico and the other council employees are the “new leadership” of local 157.
Fact--District Council employees have no voice or vote in the decision making process that directly affects the membership.
Fact--The UBC constitution clearly states “elected officers” by the membership are the officers ("leaders") of a local union.
If these appointed district council employees are our new so-called “leaders”, how come not one of these "leaders" has “demanded of Supervisor Spencer he answer our questions” an anonymous member asked.
Spencer removed all the elected leadership. Local 157 is under trusteeship and therefore has no “local leadership.” D’Errico, Pugliese and Ibric are nothing more than appointed district council employees.
Spencer by his direct action in referring to D’Errico and the other employees as the “new leaders” of local 157 has “defrauded the 4500-member local" and has tainted the upcoming September 17, 2008 local elections like some third world dictatorship.
Spencer, Forde and D’Errico are in clear violation under the LMRDA regulations. They have conspired and used union funds to promote and campaign for D’Errico who is running for president of local 157. Federal law strictly prohibits the use of union and employer funds to promote the candidacy of any person in a union officer election.
“Why are you doing nothing while Forde and Spencer violate the UBC Constitution and illegally install people to run your local?”
“D’Errico has “violated his fiduciary duty” and not demanded of Mr. Spencer a meeting of the members to install a "Pro Tem President" who according to the constitution has the right and the duty to fill the vacated positions of local 157” an anonymous poster wrote.
Section 32D of the UBC Constitution gives the Recording Secretary of the local the right and duty to call a meeting to order and in the absence of a President and Vice President those present shall elect a “President Pro Tem.”
Spencer is well aware that they cannot fill the local vacancies. He and Forde are attempting to use the EST powers of Forde under Section 31B of the UBC constitution to deny the members rights to fill the vacated positions in Local 157. That is why the “so-called leaders” are being referred to as Business Manager and Business agents and not President, Vice President and Financial Secretary.
"For D’Errico to state that Forde and Spencer appointed me “leader”, D’Errico is to admit that the constitution has been violated."
Mysteriously once members raised questions about the “so-called new leaders” Spencer's approved newsletter was removed from the official Local 157 website, which D'Errico is also illegally using to promote himself.
Also on May 1, brother Daniel Franco posted a letter on this blog that he faxed to Spencer on April 11,with questions regarding the trusteeship, which Spencer has ignored and refused to answer.
Spencer gave into the demands of the membership and he mailed out a postcard scheduling what he called an informational meeting on May 7, 2008.
This meeting was the direct result of the member’s discussion and postings of constitutional issues questioning the trusteeship. After the postings on this blog started the required LM15 appeared at the DOL, which was not there in February when the blog discussion began.
On May 7th over two hundred unsuspecting members who have been kept in the dark for six months were shocked and outraged when Spencer abruptly ended the meeting after nominations for election committee member by quickly saying "if there is no other business the meeting is adjourned."
“Meeting was a sham, didn’t give members a chance to say anything, didn’t answer any questions” said Brother Hercules Reid.
"I was so disappointed by what I saw here, no good of the order, we were rushed out the door” said long time union Brother Bruce Miranda.
Members shouted from the floor "questions, we have questions," which VP Spencer ignored as he gaveled the meeting closed after 15 minutes.
"You ask questions and you don't get answers, this is really adding insult to injury" said one member, who didn't want to be identified because he said he is a union steward and didn't want to be "the next to be hauled in there and suspended."
Spencer has come under attack for his refusal to answer member’s questions, defrauding the membership and failing to properly oversee the trusteeship.
“Your actions during this trusteeship Mr. Spencer has been a clear attempt to defraud the membership of Local 157.Your refusal to answer questions ask by the membership and your deferral to Mr. Quinn has betrayed your lack of the required expertise and knowledge required to oversee a trusteeship.”
“The membership of Local 157 was entitled to a competent International representative who has a duty to act in the best interest of the Local 157 members. You however by your actions have proven you are not competent to oversee a Trusteeship.”
" You have conspired with the NYCDC and in particular, by your illegal appointment to the supervision team of EST Mike Forde, to violate the UBC Constitution and LMRDA regulation. You have through ignorance of the requirements, failure to properly oversee the trusteeship or blantant acts of conspiracy worked to defraud members of the UBC as outlined in Section 51 of the constitution. You should be supended pending trial for resolution of these charges."
Spencer canceled the schedule June meeting, in an effort to avoid member’s questions sources say. The next schedule meeting for local 157 is a nomination meeting for officers on July 21, 2008.
Spencer can ill afford to take questions from the membership or have members questioning the trusteeship because they may find out the truth… the trusteeship is an orchestrated strategy to insure D’Errico maintains control over local 157.
D’Errico has no required constitutional authority to move anything-forward much less local 157.
D’Errico is a District Council puppet and a flake phony fraud.
This illustrates the tragic and shameful level to which 21st century union politics has sunken.
Sources say rank and file members are planning a demonstration at the July 21st meeting if Spencer tries shutting the meeting down without taking questions from the membership.
Next Week part four: The Cover Up, What Did D’Errico Know and When Did He Know It
Series at a glance:
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Everything goes wrong for the wiseguys at the Park Central. Well, almost everything.
by Tom Robbins
Big Mike Forde, leader of the city's 25,000 union carpenters, twisted and squirmed, a prisoner in his courtroom chair. Every few seconds, he shifted position. He rolled his huge bulldog head around on his shoulders and blew out his cheeks. He stretched back. He scrunched forward. Mostly, he looked straight ahead in the direction of Supreme Court Judge Bruce Allen. Occasionally, he risked sidelong glances at the dangerous jurors across the room. Then he'd shudder. He'd plant his elbows on the defense table, bury his flushed face in his hands, and shake his mighty head back and forth. "How did I wind up here?" he seemed to be saying.
That was last week in Part 45 of Manhattan Supreme Court on Centre Street, where Forde was sitting through his second trial in four years for the alleged crime of bribery of a union official, a class D felony calling for a maximum sentence of seven years. The first time around, in 2004, Forde and Martin Devereaux, his friend and union business agent, who sat beside him still as a stone, were convicted. The two union men avoided a trip to Sing Sing only because a couple of jurors couldn't resist reading a fascinating article about the case in The Village Voice. The conviction was ordered overturned.
The second trial was delayed until last month, when the rematch was set between Assistant District Attorney Michael Scotto, a studious and even-tempered man, against the fiery Michael Dowd of Queens, who represented Devereaux at both trials, and Andrew Lankler, a former prosecutor who sent a prior carpenters-union president to prison for corruption, who represented Forde this time.
As it had at the first trial, the issue of guilt or innocence rested largely on the credibility of the government's chief witness, a former coked-up apprentice mobster and contractor named Sean Richard, who said he had bribed the officials to "look the other way" as he cheated on union work rules. A former car-wash attendant, Richard hit Mafia Lotto when he married the daughter of John Riggi, head of New Jersey's DeCavalcante crime family. Although he didn't know sheet rock from sheet lightning, Richard and his wife, Sara, formed S&S Contracting and quickly won a rigged bid to renovate the cavernous Park Central Hotel on Seventh Avenue and West 56th Street. Richard was there counting his lucky stars in March 1998 when Forde and Devereaux strolled in from the street to see what was up.
If Mike Forde wondered a thousand times later how he had ended up in this fix, the answer was right there: A block wide and 31 stories tall, the massive Park Central has carried a mob curse since 1928.
The then-palatial hotel was only a year old when, on November 4, 1928, in Room 339, someone fatally gut-shot Arnold "the Brain" Rothstein, allegedly for failure to pay gambling debts. Whatever his motive, the gunman snuffed out the most brilliant mind in the American underworld. Rothstein schooled everyone from Legs Diamond to Frank Costello. He was so mesmerizing a character that F. Scott Fitzgerald put him in The Great Gatsby. Today, Rothstein is best remembered for having fixed the 1919 World Series. But his real contribution was educating the mob on the ways and means of paying off politicians. At his death, Rothstein's records showed he was bankrolling Mayor Jimmy Walker's campaign. His slayers were never convicted, a failure that reformers, including future mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, attributed to a failure of will on the part of Walker and his police.
The curse struck again almost 30 years later when, at 10:20 a.m. on October 25, 1957, Albert Anastasia settled into chair number four in the hotel barber shop for a shave. Anastasia was Rothstein's polar opposite, a mobster who chose bullets over brains every time. He ran Murder Inc., the Brooklyn outfit that farmed out contract hits as casually as car rentals. His blood thirst was so great that, out of his hearing, his men called him "The Mad Hatter." As soon as the barber placed hot towels across Anastasia's jowls, two white men wearing black masks entered via the hotel lobby, plugged him with four to five shots, and fled.
The hotel was then calling itself the Park Sheraton, but the name change had no apparent effect on the curse. Again, the killers were never caught, although several of the mob's most colorful members, including Crazy Joey Gallo and Carmine "the Snake" Persico, claimed to have been in on the hit.
Fast-forward another 40 years, when a swaggering developer named Bruce Eichner got it in his head that he would renovate the now-fading tourist hotel, while converting half of the building into a long-stay corporate residence. He gave the hotel its original name back, and soon Richard's S&S Contracting was at work.
Richard's testimony was that it was sometime after St. Patrick's Day when Forde and Devereaux showed up at the Park Central. He said the men chatted about methods for bringing Richard's own workers from New Jersey into Forde's jurisdiction and parted amicably. Forde somehow didn't get around to sending a shop steward—a union requirement—to the site for another two months, a failing that defense attorneys chalked up to the fact that the job was just starting out. (The steward who finally arrived was so intimidated by Richard's thugs that he never even got the names of other workers on the job.)
In the meantime, Richard said he had his bagman and driver, Tony Rucereto, sound out the union reps to see if they'd appreciate $50,000 in exchange for what he called "labor peace." Rucereto, who also testified for the prosecution, said that Forde never said a word when the bribe was offered, only staring back at him "stone cold." Later, Forde added, cryptically: "No non-union men."
Still, Richard was so convinced they had a deal that he set up another meeting for the payoff, at the Hooters restaurant across the street from the hotel. He said Rucereto brought $10,000 cash and that, while he never saw the money change hands, it was gone when they left the restaurant. Rucereto added to the mystery by saying he must have missed the payoff while he was in the bathroom. Richard's clearest recollection—one he has stuck to for eight years—was that as the men sat and drank, Forde made a small joke: "Mr. Forde said he shouldn't be having a beer; they were cracking down at the union."
In their summations, defense attorneys Dowd and Lankler said that Richard, who once bragged about buying champagne at the Oak Room and trinkets for a stripper named Lola, was a "pathological liar," even reading about the malady from medical dictionaries.
"If he was a pathological liar," responded assistant D.A. Scotto when his turn came, "you'd think he would've come up with a better lie."
Whatever the truth of the matter, this time the jury wasn't buying. It deliberated all of 90 minutes on the evening of June 10 before voting to acquit both defendants. "The circumstantial evidence was compelling," said one juror a few days later. "Still, the defense piled on the nagging doubts, and I wasn't convinced enough to send the guys to jail."
After the verdict, Mike Forde, who is trying to quit, lit up a victory cigarette. He deserved it. It is not every day you beat a mob curse.
Monday, June 16, 2008
Dirty Tricks Scandal at Local 157- Part Two
Since the 2005 appointment of William Callahan as the new Independent Investigator, Callahan’s firm Unitel has failed to achieve anything close to the results seen under his predecessor Walter Mack.
Through extensive evidence-gathering, during Mack’s tenure as Independent Investigator, Mack revealed widespread violations of the job-referral rules among shop stewards, business agents, and journeymen, and significant instances of job site corruption in which contractors operated “cash jobs” without detection or intervention by the District Council.
This is in stark contrast to Unitel’s tenure which ‘‘has been marked by incomplete and slow-moving investigations” and “virtually no new evidence of corruption.”
In a scathing petition , filed on September 14, 2007 by the United States attorney in Manhattan, Michael J. Garcia called for ousting Callahan as the independent investigator, saying he had done far too little to clean up the union.
Mr. Garcia asserted that Mr. Callahan had failed to pursue evidence that Mr. Mack had developed about off-the-books work, fraud against the union and organized crime involvement in construction at the Cipriani banquet hall at 200 Fifth Avenue at 23rd Street. Among the evidence given to Mr. Callahan, federal prosecutors said, were firsthand reports that two convicted felons, ''known labor racketeers,'' were at the construction site.
The United States attorney said that Mr. Callahan's follow-up report reflected no further investigation and no indication that he had interviewed witnesses or took depositions.
When Mack was hired in 2003 he was told by union officials that the big problems, the kind that sent people to prison, had long been resolved. They said, “Everything is on the up-and-up. We have the greatest anti-corruption program there ever was,” Mack recalled.
Mack however heard differently from members who called in complaints—mostly anonymously—via a telephone hotline. By the end of his first year on the job, Mack had detected multiple problems, some of them systemic to the way the union operated. Mack had found many job sites where companies had paid off union officials so that carpenters could be employed off the books, with no benefits or overtime and the union's inability or unwillingness to detect or stop it.
After Mack's termination by the union, he compiled a half-dozen memos on probes he had been forced to abandon and gave the memos to Callahan.
Instead of taking action to uncover corruption on job sites (like his predecessor) or determine how the District Council allowed it to occur—Callahan preferred to rely on “investigative plans”, which require union representatives to make a number of job site visitations scaled by a gradient developed by the union’s anti-corruption committee.
The “investigative plans” relinquishes the Independent Investigator’s responsibility, putting the responsibility for anti-corruption investigations back in the hands of the union’s anti-corruption program that Mack determined to be “nearly worthless.”
The anti-corruption committee is composed of members of the district council (Maurice Leary, Director of Operations, Scott Danielson, the out-of-work list supervisor, Mike Murphy who serves as investigator and Counsel Gary Rothman of O’Dwyer Berstein) “who do not have any formal investigative training or experience; do not have a handbook of investigative procedures or written guidelines and cannot on its own do much more than inquire into allegations of improper conduct.”
The committee is also hampered by its limited resources and a “lack of training which restricts its effectiveness.” Further, it has increasingly relied on Callahan’s office to establish and take investigative initiatives.
These “investigative plans” are the same “investigative plans” that the union used against other suspected cash contractors that proved to be singularly ineffective in uncovering years’ and millions of dollars’ worth of corruption.
Walter Mack reported, the “investigative plan” the union implemented and the one proposed by Unitel—called for frequent visits by business agents. However, shop stewards on the targeted jobs “typically . . . seemed to know in advance when a business agent was expected,” making it easy for them to conceal the frauds taking place on their job sites. The District Council’s “investigative plan” thus “had not yielded any significant results,” and Mack concluded that it was “ineffectual in its conception and its execution.”
Sources speculate that operatives close to District Council President Peter Thomassen who persuaded judge Haight to let him name Callahan to replace the highly aggressive Walter Mack supplied Callahan the information about the local 157 officials to help improve Callahan’s sagging creditability and to remove any local 157 opposition to his re-election.
An inside source said, Lawrence D'Errico the Recording Secretary/business representative for local 157 was tipped off and knew about the pending local 157 investigation.
Although D'Errico is a longtime ally of former Local 157 President Hanley, he kept silent about his knowledge of the investigation and trap being set to snare the unsuspecting local 157 officials.
D'Errico's violation of trust did not start with the local leaders, sources say D'Errico knew, supported and concealed from the local 157 membership Thomassen's secret 2001 back door deal to “bargain away the job referral rules.”
D’Errico who has strong ties to Thomassen serves as a trustee to the NYCDCC Benefit Funds which Thomassen is chairman and is one of his most ardent supporters. As chairman of the benefit funds, “Thomassen doled out perks to curry favor with supporters” sources say.
Thought-out 2007 D'Errico played by the rules, carefully updating his activity records and keeping accurate attendance records, while turning a blind eye to the activities of the local 157 officials, who were conducting business as usual.
A close source that regular played golf with D’Errico for years, thought it strange and wondered why D'Errico was spending less time on the golf course in 2007 then prior years. “He played golf all the time with the other officials then in 2007 he started to play less” this source said.
In the fall of 2007 the stage was set for the unsuspecting local 157 leaders to take the fall.
Callahan's investigation which started with the anonymous tip covered the period January 15, to October 15, 2007 and uncovered among other things detailed telephone records, forged time sheets, and other records showing that the local officials had not completed their activity sheets, had not conducted regular job site visits and were not even at work when they reported themselves as working a regular day.
On November 13, Callahan delivered his (still sealed) report to council leaders. Council leaders met on November 17 and led by Thomassen decided to have the local 157 officials fired sources say.
On Monday November 19, 2007 Local 157 leaders Hanley, Dilacio and Kennedy were given an option to resign or be fired within two days. Business representative/trustee Danny Demorato was given a pass and suspended for two-weeks and reassigned to local 608 because he was not considered a threat to Thomassen's 2008 re-election bid and pleaded with council leaders for his job saying that he will "never do it again."
On Wednesday November 21, Hanley and Kennedy came into council offices and signed resignation papers; Dilacio did not appear and was fired.
Coincidentally D’Errico was conveniently and safely far away on a hunting vacation while the scandal was unfolding in local 157. When D’Errico returned to work on Monday November 26, 2007, the Coup d'état of Local 157 that began with an anonymous telephone call was complete, D'Errico was appointed the “new leader” of local 157 and fully in Thomassen’s camp.
Rank and file members were shocked and immediately suspected foul play raising questions about Callahan’s targeted investigation of local 157 business representatives.
“This is a witch hunt against local 157”, “it’s a rail road job”, “this is all political”, said several members.
Members also questioned why only local 157's officers were scrutinized and investigated about their attendance records. Asks one disgruntled nail-driver: "Did Callahan check any other locals or the council to see where their officers are all day?" “How is it D’Errico gets promoted and the other four officials removed, D’Errico was doing the “same thing” questioned another outraged member.
Why did Callahan’s investigation “stop short and not probe the councils own failings or determine how the council allowed it to occur” an inside source said. The business agents are council employees, “where is the accountability at the district council?”
This whole investigation is a “sham and effort to distract attention from the failings of the district council.”
Insiders say there is a lot of tension lately at the District Council. There are clashes between staff loyal to EST Forde who was acquitted on June 10, of taking bribes from mobsters to allow nonunion workers on Manhattan construction sites and President Thomassen.
In the end the last laugh may be on Thomassen, one major Thomassen supporter confided a sentiment many are feeling: “If Pete continues in this manner don’t expect everyone to go along with it.”
Next Week part three: The Trusteeship, Defrauding the Membership
Series at a glance:
- Week one: The Set-Up, Union Politics
- Week two: The Sting, Callahan’s Investigation
- Week three: The Trusteeship, Defrauding the Membership
- Week four: The Cover Up, What Did D’Errico Know and When Did He Know It
Sunday, June 15, 2008
BY BRIAN KATES
Luis Alvarez holds "OSHA 30" card (below) he says he was given by a foreman just for watching a two-hour lecture.
The probe began after a bogus certificate surfaced in the hands of an unqualified worker at a Chelsea job site on June 4, the same day Mayor Bloomberg announced the new requirement.
The worker, Luis Alvarez, a 32-year-old Mexican immigrant, said he was given the wallet-sized card by a construction foreman in case federal job-safety inspectors questioned him.
The card - also required for certain construction supervisors and workers in high-risk jobs - certifies the holder has completed 30 hours of safety training and passed a rigorous 40-question U.S. Labor Department test.
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration issues the certificates, known as OSHA 30 cards.
"If anybody can get an OSHA 30 card, that's a very dangerous situation," said Martin Daly, director of training for the District Council of Carpenters. "This is for people working as supervisors and in hazardous jobs."
Alvarez told The News he was handed the card after a two-hour safety lecture. He said he did not take a test.
"They told me I needed the card because I was working like a supervisor and I should have it in case OSHA came to check," Alvarez said. "I did not ask for the card, they just gave it to me. I didn't know it was wrong."
Alvarez said he received it "three or four months ago."
The laminated card, dated Feb. 27, 2008, bears the OSHA logo, a trainer's signature and registration No. 600221095. It looks identical to a legitimate card, experts at the New York District Council of Carpenters said.
The union seized the card from Alvarez when he applied for membership. It was clear he lacked the qualifications, officials said.
Union officials reported the case to OSHA.
As a matter of policy, OSHA Regional Director Richard Mendelson refused to confirm or deny whether the agency is investigating.
A source close to the case revealed that federal investigators want to determine the source of the card and whether it is a masterful forgery or a genuine OSHA document obtained on the black market.
The Labor Department was unable to determine how many workers legitimately carry OSHA 30 cards in the city.
Most workers receive them after completing a three-week course administered by a union or by one of several for-profit schools in the city.
Bloomberg's announcement that the cards would be required for all workers who erect and take down tower cranes was hailed by state and local politicians, construction industry leaders and community activists.
It came amid citywide outrage over the death of two workers four days before in a crane collapse on E. 91st St. Seven other people were killed in another crane collapse March 15 on E. 51st St.
Alvarez identified the man who gave him the card as Timmy Mahoney, a foreman at 200 11th Ave., a luxury condo rising at the corner of W. 24th St.
"I don't know nothing about it," Mahoney said before hanging up.
Mahoney's brother, Michael Mahoney, the general contractor, tried to rip a camera from a News photographer who took his picture. "It never happened," he shouted over his shoulder, referring to the issuance of the card, as he walked from the troubled job site.
The 19-story condo, known as the Sky Garage, is the only residential building of its type in the city. It will feature an elevator to lift residents' cars virtually to their apartment doors.
In March, The News reported that the Buildings Department cited "questionable construction practices" at the site and a partial stop-work order has been in effect there since May 28.
Saturday, June 14, 2008
Thursday, June 12, 2008
NIXED ALERT ON OLD EQUIPMENT
Investigators want to know why the high-ranking inspector, Michael Carbone, let the Kodiak crane operate despite the subordinate's worry that the equipment, manufactured nearly 20 years ago, was too old and had undergone too much significant repair work, one source said.
The lower-ranking inspector wanted to bar the crane from the project. But Carbone overruled the employee's fears, and said that the crane was safe to operate, said the source.
It was unclear whether Carbone made his decision when the crane was in its yard, or as it was being assembled on East 91st Street.
Investigators can't say Carbone was wrong to let the building's contractors put the aged crane to work - based on what he knew about the crane, his decision may have been correct, say sources.
But after two deadly crane collapses, and the arrests of two inspectors accused of falsifying reports and taking bribes, probers are leaving no stone unturned.
Department of Buildings officials would not comment on Carbone's actions, since the question is "related to matters that are under investigation" by the agency and law enforcement. Carbone could not be reached for comment.
In 2005, Carbone was promoted to the post of the city's chief crane inspector. Recently, he was named chief inspector of the DOB Emergency Response Team.
Investigators are now focusing on defective bolts and welds in the crane's turntable. The bolts snapped in the May 30 collapse, which killed two crew workers.
But those weren't the only problems with the crane, which belonged to New York Crane & Equipment Corp. of Brooklyn.
Records show that on April 23, a buildings inspector issued a partial stop-work order on the crane after finding two mechanical defects.
One was a problem with a device on the crane that keeps its vertical boom from falling if it swings too low. Another was leaky grease seal on drums around which the crane's cables were wound. The order was rescinded on May 21, nine days before the accident.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
BY BARBARA ROSS
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Two top officials of the carpenters union were acquitted Tuesday night of taking bribes from mobsters to allow nonunion workers on Manhattan construction sites.
After deliberating 90 minutes, the panel delivered the verdict to Michael Forde, executive secretary to the 25,000-member New York City District Council of Carpenters, and business agent Martin Devereaux.
"It's been a long 10 years," Devereaux said, minutes after the verdict was delivered in Manhattan Supreme Court.
He and Forde were charged in September 2000, but allegations surfaced two years earlier of them taking a $10,000 bribe from Sean Richard, the former son-in-law of the imprisoned boss of the DeCavalcante crime family.
The money was described as a down payment on a promised $50,000 bribe. Their 2004 convictions were overturned after jurors were discovered debating a Village Voice article highly critical of Forde and Devereaux.
"I'm happy that justice has been served, but the wheels of justice grind slowly," said Forde.
Devereaux said he was "very happy for the carpenters all around New York City because we have finally cleared our name and the name of our union."Related articles
Monday, June 9, 2008
Dirty Tricks Scandal at Local 157: Week one
As suspected by many rank and file members union politics played a role in the November 21, 2007 International Union Trusteeship of Local 157.
Knowledgeable union sources confirm that the outing of President/business manager Bill Hanley, Vice President/business representative George Dilacio, Financial Secretary/business representative Fred Kennedy and Trustee/business representative Danny Demorato was nothing more than dirty tricks, union politics and acts of betrayal by a trusted friend.
In mid 2006 District Council President Peter Thomassen worried about being challenged for re-election in 2008 by leaders of local 157 sources say. Thomassen’s concerns stem from the knowledge that in the December 2005 district council elections, leaders of local 157 were seriously considering challenging Thomassen’s re-election bid, but backed off at the last minute when a secret back door deal was reached. Thomassen ran unopposed in 2005.
Thomassen also worried that embattled council leader Michael Forde, who was convicted in 2004 of taking a $50,000 bribe from a mobster's son-in-law and facing retrial may be forced out of the 2008 council elections.
Forde who is allegedly rumored to have a cocaine habit, had his 2004 conviction set-aside in April, 2005 after the judge determined that members of the jury had spoken disparagingly of union officials during the trial. Forde's retrial which has been put off repeatedly started on June 2, 2008, a verdict is expected this week.
A source familiar with the situation said there is an alleged dirty-tricks operation within the district council and a central figure in the suspected shadowy operation is President Thomassen.
In late 2006 Thomassen was so worried about the upcoming 2008 council election he joked to an operative that it wouldn’t be a bad idea if the Independent Investigator William Callahan, investigated local 157. Thomassen had long known about the attendance record and work habits of the local officials. It was that comment sources say triggered the anonymous tipster telephone call to Callahan’s hotline complaining about local 157 officials not at work and leaving early.
Thomassen is no stranger to dirty tricks; in a secret backdoor deal in 2001, Thomassen bargained away the job referral rules without ever having the approval from the delegate body or telling the membership or advising the government.
Thomassen’s decision to negotiate the job referral rules contradicted the wishes of the rank-and-file membership. Not only were Local 157’s rank and file carpenters universally opposed to the request system as implemented prior to 2001, but also the expansion of the request practice affected by the 2001 bargaining negotiations was expressly opposed by the membership of Local 608.
John Greaney, Local 608’s President/business manager mailed questionnaires to the Local’s membership to ascertain its views on issues relevant to the bargaining. Greaney learned through compiling data from completed questionnaires that the members wanted to “eliminate the contractor request”, Greaney then presented his membership’s “collective sentiment” to the District Council negotiating committee, but the change was not made.
A former member of the 2001 negotiating committee told me "no one ever told me about the change in the job referral rules, I was shocked to find out about it." Think about all the "members hard earn money wasted on legal fees over this issue."
The membership was "kept in the dark," Thomassen "sold-out the carpenters" in the 2001 contract negotiations. He fails to realize then and now what every carpenter in this union realizes—by changing the contract and allowing the contractor to request the entire workforce he has "transformed the out-of-work list from being a major source of job opportunities for carpenters into a graveyard, where carpenters languish on a meaningless out-of-work list with little if any hope of job opportunities" another informed source said.
"The 50/50 rule is meaningless; it only exists on paper," Thomassen has undercut and turned the “out-of-work list into nothing more than an absurd paperwork dance.” He is "delusional and out of touch with reality," he still believes he gave "ice in the winter" to the contractors. He "violated his oath of office and more importantly the trust of the entire membership." By his actions Thomassen has "defrauded the membership, he should be held accountable and be brought up on charges and kicked out" an angry veteran carpenter said.
In 2005 the government learned of the change and federal prosecutors asked judge Haight to hold President Thomassen in contempt of the consent decree for changing the union’s job referral system without government approval.
On January 12, 2006 judge Haight denied the governments motion to hold Thomassen in contempt, the government appealed and on February 20, 2007 the Court of Appeals agreed with the government’s position and held that in entering into the 2001 collective bargaining agreements without first advising the government, the district council had breached the consent decree and held President Thomassen in contempt of it. The appeals court sent the case back to district judge Haight for fashioning an appropriate remedy for the contempt charge, which is pending before the court.
Thomassen who is a strong advocate for Callahan is currently in federal court arguing to extend Callahan's term as independent investigator.
Callahan’s two-year term officially expired on August 26, 2007 but judge Haight provisionally extended it pending his decision.
Many rank and file members have lost trust and confidence in Callahan believing that he is to cozy with the district council.
In 2005 Thomassen, persuaded judge Haight to let him name Mr. Callahan to replace the highly aggressive Independent Investigator Walter Mack whom the United States attorney wanted to keep.
Thomassen desperately fought to have Mack terminated say sources because Mack had found voluminous evidence of both corruption and the union's inability or unwillingness to detect or stop it.
In November 2004 Walter Mack was investigating a company called Tri-Built, the owners of Tri-Built told Mack they paid a council employee to remove and alter shop steward reports. The union’s auditors rely on shop steward reports to be accurate when they audit contractors to ensure that all benefit contributions have been paid. Mack shared this information at a confidential anti-corruption meeting; Mack then discovered that someone on the anti-corruption committee leaked the information to one of the benefit fund trustees. Six days later the district council hired the firm Kroll to do an independent audit and take over the investigation. Mack believes, this action was taken in order to hinder his team’s ability to determine how and to what extent Tri-Built and possibly other contractors were able to avoid detection of their routine collective bargaining agreement violations for such a long time.
In May of 2005 at a delegate meeting Thomassen informed the delegates about terminating Walter Mack. Thomassen said we are very unhappy with the “run away cost and the abuse” from Mr. Mack. Thomassen also chastised the frivolous anonymous callers to the hotline, “If a member has corruption to report he should leave his name.” Thomassen didn’t mention Tri-Built or the Knoll investigation to the delegates.
On September 21, 2007, Mr. Garcia, the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan filed a 25-page petition asking judge Haight to replace Callahan saying his ''tenure has been marked by incomplete and slow-moving investigations'' and ''virtually no new evidence of corruption.''
Garcia also accused, Mr. Callahan of failing to follow up on strong investigative leads, not telling federal officials the truth about his investigations and betraying the anonymity of union members who confided to him about corruption.
On April 21, 2008 the district council was once again in federal court arguing to have the 1994 consent decree vacated. Federal judge Haight is expected to decide on the motion in the fall along with a motion by the government replacing Callahan and a remedy for the contempt charge against Thomassen.
There is a smart guy I know, a union insider who goes way back with Thomassen and who hasn’t been wrong yet about the district council. He told me six months ago, "you have not heard the real story about the Carpenters Pension Fund", Let’s hope he’s wrong, this time.
Next week part two: The Sting, Callahan's Investigation
Series at a glance:
- Week one: The Set-Up, Union Politics
- Week two: The Sting, Callahan’s Investigation
- Week three: The Trusteeship, Defrauding the Membership
- Week four: The Cover Up, What Did D’Errico Know and When Did He Know It
Sunday, June 8, 2008
In the spring of 2007, a bolt of lightning struck a crane at 46th Street and Eighth Avenue, damaging a crucial part — the turntable at the top. Over the weeks that followed, the turntable’s bearings began to grind, and the stress apparently caused a crack in the surrounding steel that grew so wide that a worker noticed daylight glinting through it, according to an engineering report for the crane’s owner.
The discovery set off alarm bells in the city’s Buildings Department, where officials feared that the operator’s cab sitting atop the turntable might fall onto the street in the theater district, people familiar with the episode say. Bethany Klein, the head of the department’s crane division at the time, climbed the 18-story tower to examine the damage. On the weekend of May 19 last year, the cracked turntable was removed with the help of two other cranes.
Accident averted, city officials believed.
Or was it?
Investigators now believe that the rebuilt turntable wound up in a tower crane involved in a fatal accident at 91st Street and First Avenue on May 30, according to NationsBuilders Insurance Services, the insurer for the crane owner. In that accident, a weld in the rebuilt turntable apparently failed, causing the top of the crane to break away and fall on a 23-story building across 91st Street, killing two workers. It was the kind of disaster that city officials had feared might happen on 46th Street last year.
City investigators and prosecutors are asking whether Buildings Department officials properly monitored the journey of that turntable after it was damaged by lightning. Did the department tell the crane’s owner, New York Crane and Equipment, to scrap or repair the turntable, or did it give the company other instructions? And did the city inspect the repaired equipment and its welds before it was returned to service on 91st Street?
The Buildings Department would not answer those questions, citing inquiries by the city’s Department of Investigation and the Manhattan district attorney’s office. The department also refused to answer general questions about its responsibility to inspect damaged crane equipment.
But high turnover at the department’s Cranes and Derricks Unit suggests that it has been in turmoil for months, raising questions about the division’s ability to monitor the more than two dozen tower cranes at work across the city.
On Friday, James Delayo, the acting chief inspector for the unit, was arrested and charged with taking bribes to approve cranes under his review, and with taking money from a crane company that sought to ensure that its employees would pass the licensing exam, an official involved in the case said. Mr. Delayo could face up to seven years in prison if convicted. The charges against him do not involve tower cranes like those that collapsed last week and in March, the authorities have said.
On March 19, four days after a crane collapsed on East 51st Street, killing seven people, a crane inspector was arrested and charged with faking a report that he had visited a construction crane at that site on March 4. The inspector, the authorities said, never visited the crane.
The arrests have contributed to a significant staff upheaval at the division, which has also seen its director, its executive director and another chief inspector replaced in the past 15 months.
Even before the turnover, Buildings Department statistics have shown that the number of crane inspectors has barely changed since the 1980s, even as the city has experienced a historic building boom. Last year, the department issued 902 crane permits, 40 percent more than in 2003. Today, the cranes division has just four inspectors, although the agency recently hired a private firm to assist in inspections. The number of in-house inspectors has been as high as eight in the past 25 years.
Many construction experts and building industry officials say the city’s crane inspectors lag well behind private-sector inspectors in training and pay. Even Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg suggested that New York may have to bolster its inspection process to better police the city’s tower cranes.
“It may be that the procedures are as comprehensive as they can be,” Mr. Bloomberg said last week at City Hall. “It may be that we don’t have all of the checks and balances that we should have, and that’s why we’re trying to gather information.”
Members of the Building Trades Employers’ Association echoed that sentiment last week when they discussed hiring third-party inspectors to police their construction sites.
“It gets back to the buildings inspectors’ technical competence,” said Louis J. Coletti, president of the association, which represents union contractors. “Welding is a very particular area. It’s not the kind of review that lends itself to a building inspector or even a professional engineer.”
The Buildings Department has said it plans to hire a consultant to review the way it monitors crane operations and other high-risk construction activities.
Certified third-party crane inspectors are required in other states. In Washington State, beginning in 2010, the roughly 10,000 cranes there will have to be certified by third-party inspectors who must pass two written examinations, including one that deals specifically with the cranes they inspect.
Prompted by a crane collapse in San Francisco in 1989, California, which has some of the toughest crane regulations, requires third-party inspectors to sign off on cranes after every 750 hours of operation, or every three months, in addition to an annual inspection, said Charles B. Scarrott, a state-certified inspector from Simi Valley, Calif.
“Outside inspectors is the right way to do it,” he said. “City and state people don’t have the experience.”
The requirements to be a New York City crane inspector have not changed in recent years. Candidates must have five years of full-time paid experience as a rigger handling gear and equipment in the hoisting and rigging business or as an inspector of hoisting and rigging; or three years of experience plus two years of college engineering courses.
Crane inspectors at the Buildings Department earn $47,882 to $74,224.
Still, industry experts say it is not certain that additional city inspectors, or third-party inspectors, would have prevented the 91st Street accident. The insurance company for New York Crane said that the welds on the repaired turntable were tested by two independent firms for imperfections and that they passed both times.
What is clearer is that the crane unit has been under considerable stress.
The close call on 46th Street led to months of discussions with members of the crane industry, according to an executive in the industry who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the current investigation. Last summer, Ms. Klein assembled key crane and construction executives to hear a presentation by the engineering firm Lucius Pitkin, which was hired by New York Crane to examine the damaged turntable. The firm concluded that damage from the lightning strike appeared to have led to the crack.
After the turntable was removed, the cab and boom from the original crane were set on top of a new turntable. The crane operated with that configuration for several months, and, according to city records, it was taken down in early September.
The damaged turntable was sent to Brady Marine, a welding company in Elizabeth, N.J. There, a new bearing assembly was welded onto the turntable’s base. Several calls to Brady Marine were not answered.
On March 15, a crane toppled at East 51st Street. The buildings commissioner, Patricia J. Lancaster, ordered the inspections of all cranes in use. Ms. Lancaster also increased the demands on crane inspectors. Less than a week later, the crane inspector was arrested for faking a report, leaving the already understaffed crane unit with five inspectors. Then, on April 22, Ms. Lancaster stepped down under pressure and was replaced by her first deputy, Robert LiMandri.
On April 17, the cranes division approved the installation of the crane at East 91st Street. Officials have said that it received a routine inspection and was cleared to be set up on April 20.
A former crane unit chief, Leo Y. Lee, said that type of inspection typically would have involved checking markings on each of the major parts, including the turntable, against a list provided by the owner, to make sure they all belonged to the same crane. The inspectors would also have looked for visible signs of damage. Experts say that kind of visual inspection probably would not have discovered a faulty weld.
Officials at the Buildings Department would not provide more information about the inspections done on the crane, which is identified in city permits as No. CD1895, or say whether the officials who approved the crane’s installation were aware of its history.
Ms. Klein was the one city employee who may have been most aware of the crane’s troubled past. But she left the crane unit last fall and quit the Buildings Department to work for a private construction firm shortly before the crane was erected on East 91st Street. She did not return calls for comment.
ALBANY, N.Y. The state's highest court has upheld the right of construction workers to sue contractors for federally funded work on public housing projects in New York.
The contracts with the New York City Housing Authority under federal law required paying workers at least the prevailing wages in their locality as determined by the U.S. Labor Department.
The Court of Appeals Thursday upheld the right of workers to sue in state courts for breach of contract for underpayments. The judges unanimously rejected contractor arguments of federal pre-emption, noting there are no administrative or court remedies for the workers under the federal Housing Act, and no prohibition to state court claims.
Saturday, June 7, 2008
One of the city's top crane inspectors pocketed thousands of dollars in bribes from a construction firm while selling copies of the crane-operator exam, authorities charged yesterday.
James Delayo, assistant chief inspector for cranes, allegedly took cash for eight years to falsify reports claiming that cranes were inspected and operators properly licensed, the Department of Investigation said.
This blatant corruption by one of the Buildings Department's most senior men comes as questions swirl around the agency's ability to safely manage the city's building boom.
There have been two deadly crane accidents within 10 weeks, and the department's commissioner was forced out.
Authorities said they have no evidence his actions were in any way connected to the March 15 crane collapse on East 51st Street, which killed seven people, or the May 30 collapse on East 91st Street, which killed two.
Delayo, a 26-year veteran of the agency, also allegedly gave the construction company advance copies of the written exam that crane operators must pass to obtain a city license. He got a $3,000 bribe for the test, authorities said.
Industry sources identified Nu-Way Crane Service of Copiague, L.I., - whose president Michael Sackaris had his home and offices searched by investigators yesterday - as the firm that paid for the operators exams.
Delayo, 60, whose salary is $74,224, had just been promoted after the March 15 collapse in Midtown.
The Bronx resident is charged with "selling out his own integrity in a way that compromised public safety" and "rendered his inspectional job meaningless," said Rose Gill Hearn, commissioner of the Department of Investigation.
Inspections were left "in hands of individuals who paid him bribes."
Delayo signed off on so-called "class C" mobile cranes - machines that are different from the tower cranes that collapsed in Manhattan - more than 20 times. He got several hundred dollars for every fake inspection, sources said.
"We have zero tolerance for any corruption anywhere in city government, and when corruption appears in a public safety agency like the Department of Buildings, it is all the more deplorable," Mayor Bloomberg said.The inspector made a brief appearance yesterday in Manhattan Criminal Court to face felony corruption charges. He was released pending a grand-jury indictment on felony bribe receiving and record tampering, charges that carry sentences of up to seven years in prison.
Thursday, June 5, 2008
Click here for video
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and city leaders unveiled new reforms for construction site safety Wednesday afternoon, less than a week after a crane collapse on the Upper East Side left two dead and one seriously injured.
Flanked at City Hall by Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Acting Building Commissioner Robert LiMandri, the mayor presented what he called "unprecedented reforms," including a new and stronger system of regulating construction operations.
"This year's unacceptably high number of construction fatalities underscores why we must do more," said the mayor.
He also proposed more stringent regulations pertaining to subcontractors.
"We have to continue to construct. We have to continue to build," said Bloomberg. "We need schools, we need to build infrastructure. That is always there. But the first priority is safety."
"Building for the future and building safely are not mutually exclusive," continued Bloomberg. "We can and will do both -- but public safety is our top priority."
"City government will not sacrifice the safety of New Yorkers in the name of development," agreed Quinn.
Bloomberg said one component will be greater monitoring, including having site safety managers on the premises for concrete and demolition projects. Contractors will also now be required to comply with safety violations within 24 hours after summonses are issued.
The other proposals include requiring crane workers to complete at least 30 hours of safety training before they can take part in rigging operations. The use of nylon slings on cranes would also be restricted and the city wants to require managers to oversee concrete work at construction sites.
The mayor also warned of the dangers of messy work sites, which can put neighboring properties and the public at risk from falling debris. As a result, the proposal allows for the Department of Buildings to issue Immediately Hazardous violations.
The legislation also highlights crane safety and training on the heels of last week's deadly crane collapse, the second deadly crash this year. Among the proposals is a requirement of 30 hours' minimum training for any worker doing crane rigging operations.
And directly related to the March 15th collapse in Turtle Bay, nylon slings will be prohibited in most circumstances, unless manufacturers recommend them. The Department of Buildings found that a broken nylon sling was responsible for that collapse, which killed seven.
On a larger scale, the mayor called for a change to the qualifications for the buildings commissioner -- requiring the position to be held by either a licensed engineer or architect.
On hand for the press conference were leaders in the construction and building trades, who gave their endorsement of the safety reforms.
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer responded to the announcement by saying the Department of Buildings cannot take on all of the reforms on its own and that an improved plan to implement changes is needed.
"There's no talk of how we're going to change the mindset of the department, the kind of resources that will take to implement this," said Stringer. "I worry that we are going to pile on a department that can't meet this challenge."
The new bills still need to be drafted and passed by the City Council.
Meanwhile, the Office of Emergency Management cleared residents of 354 East 91st Street whose apartments were not damaged in last Friday's collapse to return to their apartments just after 4:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Crews spent the past few days working to make sure the building was safe to be re-occupied. Doors that were knocked down as part of the evacuation had to be replaced before tenants were allowed to go home.
Residents said after days of staying in hotels, with friends, or at Red Cross shelters, it's comforting that they can move back; however, some still had a few reservations.
"I don't know about moving back to that though," said displaced resident Erin Biro. "My apartment is fine, but obviously there is still going to be a lot of hustle and bustle and noise. Just even out on the streets, daily life just isn't going to be the same."
"I've been staying with my dad and I'm very happy to finally be going back," said another.
"The thought that maybe we'd never come back, you know, because this is a very nice building," said a third. "We love it. I've been there for three years."
It could be several months before residents whose apartments were in the direct line of the collapse can return to their homes.
Meanwhile, the New York Times says major contracting companies are considering whether to hire third-party inspectors to ensure the safety of tower cranes.
Investigators looking into Friday's accident have been focusing on a turntable on the crane that had previously been repaired for a crack. The insurer for the crane company says the weld that had been done was inspected and tested twice before the crane was used on the project.
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
By JOHN ELIGON--The New York Times
The tears flowing from Sean J. Richard’s eyes in a Manhattan courtroom on Tuesday seemed hardly indicative of the man he once was.
After growing up a juvenile delinquent in the Bronx, not finishing high school and getting into business ventures that included painting and wall covering, Mr. Richard married Sara M. Riggi, the daughter of the mob boss John Riggi, in 1997.
Although Mr. Riggi, the boss of the New Jersey-based DeCavalcantes, was in prison when his daughter and Mr. Richard were married, he met Mr. Richard during a prison visit.
And before he knew it, Mr. Richard, an unlikely mobster, was making a living from organized crime. Through S&S Contractors, the carpentry company he started with his wife, Mr. Richard was bribing labor officials and rigging bids for construction contracts. He lived the high life, he said, going through cars as if they were disposable contact lenses, giving strippers $1,000 tips and buying $2,000 suits.
But law enforcement authorities caught on in 1999, and by the end of the year, Mr. Richard agreed to cooperate with them. He was turning against the mob.
And so he found himself testifying in State Supreme Court in Manhattan on Tuesday. And the session included some very unmoblike moments: he broke down several times when asked about his separation from his family, providing a view into the tattered life of a man whose fall was as rapid as his rise.
Mr. Richard, 43, provided crucial testimony in the trial of Michael Forde and Martin Devereaux, officials with Local 608 of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners. The two are accused of taking a bribe from Mr. Richard in 1998 to allow him to use nonunion workers for a job his company was doing at the Park Central Hotel in Midtown. If convicted, Mr. Forde and Mr. Devereaux would face up to seven years in prison.
Mr. Richard testified on Tuesday that Mr. Forde and Mr. Devereaux agreed to take $50,000 from him in exchange for labor peace. He said he gave them their first installment of $10,000 over beers at a Hooters in Midtown.
The two were among 38 people named in a sweeping racketeering indictment in 2000. Theirs are the only cases to make it to trial — six cases were dismissed and the rest of the defendants arranged plea deals.
In December 1999, Mr. Richard agreed to work with the Manhattan district attorney in exchange for leniency. When he first met with Assistant District Attorney Michael A. Scotto, Mr. Richard testified on Tuesday, he promised to “give the names on a silver platter.”
“I wanted to redeem myself,” Mr. Richard said.
“Was part of the reason you came into Mr. Scotto to keep yourself from being killed by your mob confederates?” Michael Dowd, the lawyer for Mr. Devereaux, asked.
“Yes,” Mr. Richard responded.
Mr. Richard, a bald, lean man with thick glasses, showed a palette of emotions in court.
During most of his testimony, Mr. Richard seemed the antithesis of the gloating, sarcastic man who lashed out against many of his former crime associates in an interview with The New York Times in 2000.
He rarely raised his voice on the witness stand, even when defense lawyers fired confrontational questions.
When questioned about his family, Mr. Richard mixed melancholy and anger.
“I’ve tried to change my life, sir,” he told Mr. Dowd.
“Was that after you left your children and your wife?” Mr. Dowd fired back.
Mr. Richard’s voice began to crack, his cadence picked up and his face turned red. He explained, “I’m not proud of everything I did,” but Mr. Dowd did not relent.
“And you chose a stripper over your children?”
Mr. Dowd was referring to Mr. Richard’s decision to take an exotic dancer who was his girlfriend into witness protection in 2000, and not his wife and two sons. Mr. Richard testified that he later took Ms. Riggi, whom he divorced roughly five years ago, and his children into protective custody with him.
Mr. Richard was most emotional when Mr. Dowd questioned whether he had been punished for his poor decisions.
“I’m missing out on my children’s lives for eight years now because of what I’ve done,” Mr. Richard said.
The authorities raided Mr. Richard’s home office in the summer of 1999, he testified. In October, they notified him that he had been wiretapped, he said. Two months later he turned himself in to the authorities.
His high life was over and the results were devastating, he said.
Mr. Richard said he became addicted to cocaine and other drugs. He was an alcoholic, he said. “I was a terrible man,” he said. “I don’t deny that before this court.”
Mr. Richard seemed depressed about his current situation. He is in witness protection on his own. Asked by Mr. Scotto when he last saw his 9- and 10-year-old sons, Mr. Richard’s voice cracked and he said: “I don’t remember. A long time ago.”
He said, however, that he was turning a corner. He said that he was in Alcoholics Anonymous and that he had been sober since 2003. He works as a furniture mover under an assumed name in an unidentified location. Yet Mr. Richard might have seen this coming. When he first got into the business, he said, he spoke with Ms. Riggi about the fact that police raids were an inevitable part of organized crime.
After roughly five hours of testimony on Tuesday, Mr. Richard was whisked out of the courthouse in a van with windows tinted pitch black, hiding him from the outside world.
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
by Tom Robbins The Village Voice
What may be the city’s longest running bribery case is back in court this week — ten years after the alleged crime was committed.
Mike Forde, executive secretary of the 25,000-member New York District Council of Carpenters was charged back in 2000 with taking a $50,000 bribe from a mobbed up contractor while dining in 1998 at a midtown Hooter’s restaurant.
Forde didn’t go to trial on those charges until 2004 when he was convicted, along with union business agent Martin Devereaux, of taking cash to allow the builder to violate union work rules during the renovation of the Park Central Hotel on Seventh Avenue.
But the trial judge later overturned the conviction, stating that jurors had improperly discussed the case during deliberations. The judge also said jurors had read an article about it —in the Voice!(“A Mob Soprano Sings", April 13, 2004).
So yesterday Forde and Devereaux were once again facing a jury, as lawyers delivered opening summations.
Manhattan assistant district attorney Michael Scotto, who tried the first case, said the state would prove both men had sold out their membership for money. Rod Lankler, representing Forde, said key witness Sean Richards, a contractor whose father in law was a New Jersey mobster, “was a man who would do anything to avoid his obligations.”
Lawyer Michael Dowd, who is also on his second time around on the case, represents Devereaux. “This is a case based on fabrications,” Dowd told the jury.
The trial is expected to take three to four weeks.
Prosecutors investigating a fatal crane collapse on East 91st Street have taken away boxes of documents and computers from the offices of the crane’s owner, New York Crane and Equipment, two people involved in the inquiry said on Monday.
The investigation moved forward as insurers for the crane company acknowledged for the first time that the crane’s turntable — the device that swivels at the top of the tower — was a rebuilt version of one removed from another construction project on the West Side last spring after a dangerous crack was discovered in a steel part.
Bill J. Smith, president of claims and risk management for NationsBuilders Insurance Services, said that New York Crane had sent the damaged turntable to a welding company in New Jersey for repair after the crack was discovered in May 2007. The cracked part and other aging components were replaced, and the rebuilt turntable was welded back together, Mr. Smith said.
Investigators now believe that an inadequate weld on the rebuilt turntable is the cause of last Friday’s accident, in which the top of the crane broke away from the tower, killing two workers. Mr. Smith, who examined the turntable after the accident, said that a visual inspection of the weld suggested that it had not adequately penetrated the metal to “marry” the two pieces of steel that it was supposed to hold together.
But Mr. Smith also said that weld had been tested and inspected on two occasions by specialists and that each time it had been certified as having been properly done.
Monday, June 2, 2008
The construction of several large buildings in Manhattan is likely to be delayed for days, if not weeks, as city officials determine the safety of the tower cranes being used at those sites, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said on Sunday.
The mayor dismissed claims that the Buildings Department has lost its ability to manage construction projects because there are too many of them going on at the same time.
“There are too many accidents, and we’re going to see if we can do more to make sure everything is safe,” the mayor told reporters at the Roosevelt Hotel, where he had joined more than a dozen other elected officials for the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty’s annual legislative breakfast.
“We have a Buildings Department that has many thousands of people, and I think it’s fair to say that they probably have prevented an enormous number of things that could have led to accidents,” Mr. Bloomberg said.
The mayor’s remarks came two days after a crane crashed into a 23-story apartment building at 354 East 91st Street, killing two workers, injuring another, forcing hundreds from their homes and renewing fears that the city’s construction sites are unsafe. In March, seven people were killed when a crane collapsed on East 51st Street.
The City Buildings Department is investigating Friday’s accident. And over the weekend, an official involved in the inquiry said the Rackets Bureau in the office of the Manhattan district attorney, Robert M. Morgenthau, had opened a criminal investigation into whether a part of the crane had been damaged last year and then inappropriately put back into service. The piece in question is a rotating apparatus, or turntable, that connects the operator’s cab and the boom to the crane tower.
About 200 relatives and friends of Donald C. Leo, 30, one of the two workers killed in the accident, were also looking for answers on Sunday as they gathered at the Hanley Funeral Home on Staten Island for his wake. The group included high school buddies, football coaches, neighbors, relatives and co-workers.
Mr. Leo’s fiancée, Janine Belcastro, arrived flanked by two women, each holding one of her arms. The couple were together for about six years and were set to marry on June 21.
Jay Plachinski, a correction officer who played football with Mr. Leo at New Dorp High School, said Mr. Leo was “the toughest guy I knew, physically and emotionally.”
He added that Mr. Leo worked at the Fresh Kills landfill, on Staten Island, for weeks after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, helping to sort debris from the World Trade Center.
Being a crane operator, Mr. Plachinski said, “was the ultimate blue-collar job, and that’s what Don was: the ultimate blue-collar guy.”
Ms. Belcastro, a slim woman with long blond hair, did not speak to reporters. At one point, she came out of the funeral home with a small group of women, one of whom dabbed her eyes where makeup had been smeared by tears. She sat down on the steps of the funeral home to collect herself before going back inside.
The antechamber of the funeral home was filled with a number of easels covered with photographs of Mr. Leo dating back to his childhood.
Mr. Leo was killed when the Kodiak crane he was operating toppled not long after 8 a.m. on Friday. Another worker, Ramadan Kurtaj, 27, of the Bronx, was also killed.
Robert D. LiMandri, the acting buildings commissioner, issued stop-work orders at the five construction sites where a total of eight Kodiak cranes were being used so fresh inspections, additional testing and a review of repair logs could be completed.
The crane that fell at 335 East 91st Street was dismantled on Saturday. The other seven Kodiak cranes were at 123 Washington Street, 245 10th Avenue, 400 East 67th Street and 808 Columbus Avenue.
Seven of the eight cranes, including the one that fell, are owned by New York Crane and Equipment Corporation.
Investigators were focusing on whether a faulty welding job was done on the turntable of a crane that was removed from a West 46th Street site more than a year ago, officials said. They believed, but were not certain, that that turntable was on the crane that fell on East 91st Street.
In investigating Friday’s accident, officials in the district attorney’s office aimed to determine whether the Buildings Department ordered New York Crane to dispose of the damaged turntable from the West 46th Street crane, if the company was authorized to repair the turntable, whether the work was done correctly, and whether the Buildings Department was required to sign off on the repairs.
Prosecutors have been told that James F. Lomma, the owner of New York Crane, claimed to have documents proving that the Kodiak crane was suitably repaired and tested, but they have not seen repair records yet to corroborate his claims, an official involved in the inquiry said.
“It will take us a while to get to the bottom of all that,” an official said.
Mr. Lomma did not return calls for comment on Sunday.
In all, 45 out of the 169 apartments at 354 East 91st Street were damaged. On Sunday morning, workers removed debris from the penthouse area so part of First Avenue could be reopened to traffic. Residents were being let back into the building to retrieve belongings only when work was halted.
Battalion Chief Greg Bierster, of the Fire Department, said residents would not be allowed to move back in until the sprinkler system was working again. He added that 163 doors were forced open during searches to make sure people were not inside. Those doors would be replaced starting Monday night.