By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
The subcontractor, the John Galt Corporation, is now under indictment for manslaughter in the case of Beddia and Graffagnino. Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau found that a "behind-schedule" Galt "decided to shift the project's focus from cleaning pipes to removing them," sawing off "the hanging rods that supported the standpipe within inches of ceilings," causing "a large portion" of it to break free and crash to the ground. According to the District Attorney, the Bovis site safety manager and two top Galt supervisors—one of whom had been specifically objected to by Gill Hearn—"gathered at the foot of the broken standpipe" and decided to cut it up into sections, bagging and discarding it as asbestos-containing material. Though the building "was now defenseless against the threat of significant fire," Bovis and Galt reported it to no one, said Morgenthau. When the fire hit, the water that Beddia, Graffagnino, and 100 other firefighters needed poured out of the wide-open standpipe into the basement.
In addition to the role of the building's safety manager in this alleged incident, Bovis replaced its site superintendent after he insisted, prior to the break in the standpipe, that it be pressure-tested. Morgenthau said the new superintendent "proved to be less safety-conscious, and the standpipe was never tested again." Morgenthau concluded that Bovis prepared "fraudulent" daily checklists that failed to record not only the breach in the standpipe, but also "numerous fires and accidents" that occurred prior to August 2007.
Once the recipient of hundreds of millions of dollars in Bloomberg and Doctoroff largesse at nearly a half-dozen city agencies, Bovis averted indictment only because it was too big an employer to fail, according to Morgenthau. An agreement executed by Bovis and Morgenthau's office noted that the D.A. had "determined that it could institute a criminal prosecution" against the company on the same criminally negligent homicide and related charges it brought against Galt.
Research assistance: Johanna Barr, Georgia Bobley, Lucy Jordan, and Sudip P. Mukherjee
Beyond these inspection and contracting mistakes, the catalog of fatal failings also includes the fire department's response the day of the fire, which offered chilling reminders of how little was learned from 9/11. Firefighters once again charged skyward in droves, though this time, there were no possible victims to rescue. A fire chief on the FDNY's executive staff had written a warning calling for a Deutsche Bank–specific response plan two years before the demolition began, but he and the rest of the department brass failed to develop one tailored to this complex and dangerous site. Instead, the department, from the commissioner on down, behaved as if standard operating procedure was a sufficient response to any incident at the bank, even though, as Morgenthau put it, a project to concurrently clean and clear "a high-rise in a dense residential and commercial neighborhood had never been done before in New York City."
Bloomberg's tabloid-celebrated pretense at running a CEO-style government is belied by his response to these failings.
The only supposed culprits punished for the inspection breakdowns are people the mayor does not know or didn't appoint—line staff at the FDNY and the DOB—while the executives at these agencies, led by Fire Commissioner Nick Scoppetta, have yet to elicit so much as a critical word from him.
In fact, Bloomberg went out of his way to defend Scoppetta when Morgenthau pointed out, in a 32-page report, that the commissioner visited the firehouse next to the Deutsche building three months before the fire and never "inquired as to whether regular inspections were being conducted" at the bank building or "whether a special fire operations plan for this project was in place." Scoppetta was there that May because a 15-foot pipe fell from the Deutsche site through the roof of the firehouse and injured two firefighters, forcing the then 74-year-old commissioner to climb to the firehouse roof. Morgenthau added that "the failure to inspect"—which, he says, "contributed to the conditions that led to the deaths" of the firefighters—"implicates high-ranking FDNY officials" who "clearly recognized that buildings undergoing construction, demolition, and abatement were extremely dangerous for firefighting operations."
Bloomberg's lawyers, according to sources at Morgenthau's office, pushed unsuccessfully "to delete the Scoppetta language" from the report. The day after it was released, only seven months ago, Bloomberg said, "You just can't take it all the way to the top and always go fire the top guy." He insisted that whatever went wrong had occurred at another "level," consistent with Scoppetta's decision this June to discipline up to seven fire chiefs, none of whom were part of his inner circle. Scoppetta, who ran the Children's Services agency under Rudy Giuliani, is in his eighth year as Bloomberg's fire commissioner, the longest-tenured in half a century.
Even the DOI, while focusing favorably on the post-fire reforms that Scoppetta introduced, quietly took him apart. Its June report, which drew only puny stories in two city dailies, noted that "after the fire," Scoppetta "became heavily involved with inspections," adding that what was missing "at each and every level within the chain of command" before Deutsche was an effort to "ensure" that "the rules" requiring inspections of construction and demolition projects every 15 days were "being followed." The report disparaged "the executive team"—including Scoppetta and his three top chiefs—finding that all four were "unaware of, or did not address noncompliance with, the 15-Day Rule," charging that "the importance" of the rule was not "reinforced to the lower ranks."