Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Former Chief Crane Inspector Admits Taking Bribes for Lies

By John Eligon

A former chief crane inspector for New York City’s Department of Buildings pleaded guilty on Tuesday to taking bribes from a company in exchange for falsely certifying cranes that had not been inspected and issuing crane operator’s licenses to people who had not completed examinations.

The inspector, James Delayo, is to be sentenced on May 4 to two to six years in prison as part of the deal under which he pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree bribe receiving, the most serious charge he faced. The charge carries a maximum prison sentence of 15 years. Mr. Delayo also agreed to file amended local, state and federal income tax returns for 2000 through 2008.

Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney, said in a statement, “The defendant’s willful disregard for the safety of this equipment and the skill of crane operators endangered the lives of Manhattan’s residents, visitors and construction workers.”

“This is another case where responsibility and safety were trumped by greed,” Mr. Vance added. “These crimes threaten the industry that built our great city, and this fraud hurts the honest business owners and employees who every day put safety above profit.”

Sitting before Justice Thomas A. Farber of State Supreme Court in Manhattan, Mr. Delayo, 61, a 26-year veteran of the Department of Buildings, read a statement saying he had accepted more than $10,000 in bribes from Michael Sackaris, the owner of Nu-Way Crane Service.

Mr. Delayo said he had accepted the bribes “to complete and file false inspection reports” with the Buildings Department “indicating cranes owned by Nu-Way had passed inspections when, in fact, the cranes had not been inspected, or I had only conducted perfunctory inspections of those cranes.”

On at least six occasions, Mr. Delayo said, he accepted Mr. Sackaris’s bribes to certify in documents filed with the department “that Nu-Way employees seeking crane operator licenses had passed their practical examinations.”

Mr. Delayo declined to comment after the hearing. But outside the courthouse, his lawyer, David M. Oddo, said his client was sorry for what he had done.

“By taking this plea, Mr. Delayo has taken responsibility for some of the unfortunate decisions he made as chief inspector,” Mr. Oddo said.

Mr. Delayo did not believe that his actions put people in danger, Mr. Oddo said, in part because he did visual inspections on some cranes and thought, based on his experience, that it was enough to tell that the cranes were in good shape. Some cranes that he did not properly inspect later passed inspections, Mr. Oddo said. He also noted that the bribes did not involve tower cranes, the type used for high-rise construction that was involved in fatal collapses in recent years.

But the charges against Mr. Delayo surfaced in the wake of two crane collapses that left nine people dead and opened a window onto what the authorities said was a lackadaisical and occasionally corrupt manner in which cranes and their operators were approved for work in the city.

Mr. Sackaris and Michael Pascalli, an operator at Nu-Way accused of receiving a license but not having taken the test, are also under indictment. Both appeared before Justice Farber on Tuesday, and their cases were put off until April 9 for disposition, indicating they, too, were probably working on plea agreements.

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