Companies charged in NYC construction scam
New York • Two construction-safety companies dispatched cooks, hairdressers, bellhops and musicians to sign off as licensed safety experts — one of them dead — on inspections at dozens of Manhattan high-rise sites, authorities said Wednesday.
Flouting a city law that requires a private-sector "site safety manager" to spend at least two hours a day checking everything from ladders to firefighting pipes, the companies hired unqualified relatives and others, gave them the names of 10 real safety managers and had them sign over 400 daily safety logs at about 40 building sites, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. and city Department of Investigation Commissioner Mark Peters said.
No one was physically hurt because of the scheme, but proper inspections later found blocked exits, torn safety netting and other potentially perilous lapses at some sites, the authorities said.
Having "unqualified individuals fabricating that they inspected sites" was a disaster waiting to happen, Vance said. The case is prompting tighter oversight of safety managers' documentation.
Avanti Building Consultants Inc., NYCB Engineering Group, Avanti leaders Richard Marini and Richard Sfraga, NYCB Vice President Kishowar "Kris" Pervez and a man accused of signing the logs pleaded not guilty Wednesday to grand larceny and other charges. Their lawyers had no immediate comment.
Arraignments of three other alleged signers were forthcoming.
Site safety managers are supposed to keep tabs on safety in between visits from city Department of Buildings inspectors, who spot-check their logs. Construction firms and building owners have to hire a safety manager at any exterior work on a building over 14 stories. The managers generally must have several years of experience, take courses and pass a city-administered exam.
"Site safety managers are an important, crucial part of making sure that large construction sites in the city of New York remain safe," Peters said.
While site safety managers can make as much as $100 an hour, NYCB and Avanti — also known as Risk Management Agency Inc. — sometimes paid their "interns" and "runners" $25 an hour to pose on paper as safety managers who were elsewhere, retired or dead, authorities said.
"Please be extra careful looking for DoB," Marini wrote in a text message to one runner last August, using the acronym for the buildings department, according to a report by Peters' agency.
The companies' clients didn't know they were paying for bogus inspections — one shelled out over $412,000, Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Diana Florence said. Authorities said the actual safety managers were largely unaware of the scam; none has been charged.
In response to the probe, the Buildings Department is increasing audits of site safety managers' work and qualifications, developing an electronic system that will notify site safety managers whenever their names are being used at a construction site and making some documents more fraud-resistant.