By Albert Samaha
By Darwin BondGraham
By Keegan Hamilton
By Anna Merlan
By Anna Merlan
By Tessa Stuart
By Tessa Stuart
By Albert Samaha
Loeser insists that "the issuance of alteration permits had no bearing on the level" of DOB oversight, a contention that is contrary to Morgenthau's finding that "inexperienced" inspectors, rather than B.E.S.T. inspectors, wound up in charge, as a direct consequence of the absence of a demolition permit. The DOB insists that it took "the unprecedented step of dedicating a permanent team of inspectors to the site," meaning it "received greater attention" than any other construction site in the city. That's a quantity-over-quality argument, since the DOI found that none of the DOB's inspectors assigned to the site "had any experience on site safety demolition projects," and one department supervisor is quoted as concluding that the inspectors examining the standpipe "really did not know what they are looking at."
LiMandri actually promoted Tom Connors, the Manhattan inspection manager, and named Chris Santulli, the Manhattan commissioner, to a citywide post—after both had been faulted by the DOI for "no follow-up to ensure that the B.E.S.T. Squad was training" the inspectors actually monitoring the site. Though Connors "never told" the inspectors "what to inspect at the site" or provided them "with any type of formal training," LiMandri elevated him around the first anniversary of the fire to Executive Director of Construction Site Safety. Last October, LiMandri named Santulli the acting assistant commissioner of engineering and safety operations, and it was Santulli who appeared at a January 2009 City Council hearing to offer assurances about how well the Deutsche project was currently proceeding.
Though Connors was a featured speaker at a DOB-sponsored forum for Construction Safety Week in April, and both Santulli and Connors appeared with LiMandri at a similar event hosted by the Building Trade Employers Association in November, they both finally got letters of reprimand placed in their file a couple of weeks ago. The reprimands (without demotions) were issued three weeks after the Voice began asking questions about whether they'd be disciplined at all. Connors has received a $15,052 raise since the fire, while Santulli is still at the same $138,403 level. (Both were included in the citywide managerial salary hikes released by the mayor the same day that the reprimand letters were placed in their files. The raises they received tallied a combined $19,944.)
Research assistance: Johanna Barr, Georgia Bobley, Lucy Jordan, and Sudip P. Mukherjee
Beyond the mild and late letters on Santulli and Connors, Robert Iulo, who took over the inspection unit at the Deutsche site shortly before the fire, is the only DOB employee to face formal departmental charges. Iulo is accused in the DOI report of killing a stop-work request from one of the inspectors, who observed a problem with the standpipe unassociated with the basement breach. The inspector testified that, two months before the fire, he reported this standpipe problem to Iulo, as well as to the same Bovis manager ultimately charged with participating in the cover-up of the breach. The inspector wanted the pipe tested immediately, but Iulo blocked a pressurized test and allegedly instructed the inspector not to include his concerns in his report. Of course, a stop-work order would have meant delays no one wanted, and the Bovis manager, if his indictment is accurate, knew that the pipe would fail a test, leading to a prolonged stoppage of the project.
Throughout this period, the DOB reported to Dan Doctoroff, the deputy mayor who also headed the eight-member city delegation on the 16-member board of the state's Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC), the entity that bought the bank building from Deutsche and hired Bovis to tear it down. None of the investigative reports examine Doctoroff's role, if any, in the DOB's alteration permit, which exempted LMDC from the requirement that abatement precede demolition, or the patchwork inspections, which fast-tracked the project. He was, however, the only city official with a heavy hand at both agencies. One source involved with the probe at Morgenthau's office said Doctoroff was "the guy pushing and pushing and pushing" to get the project "moving forward," and that he "didn't bother himself with the details."
Doctoroff attended the LMDC meetings in July and August of 2005, when the contracts with Bovis and a Galt-tied subcontractor named Safeway were approved. He was the mayor's representative to LMDC, but didn't actually join its board until a couple of months later. Though he didn't hesitate to raise objections to matters on the agenda before he became a board member, including at the August meeting, he said nothing about the two contracts for the Deutsche project. The Bloomberg administration had distanced itself from LMDC as part of a broader power-sharing arrangement with Governor Pataki, but just as the bank project got under way, it aggressively threw itself into the LMDC mix. The Times said the administration played a key role in determining "who was to do the work" at the Deutsche site. Doctoroff became so personally involved that he put two of his own aides on the board as well.
Even though Safeway was soon dropped—in part for violations it received that summer in connection with the collapse of a supermarket it was demolishing, injuring 10 people—Doctoroff has conceded that, in February 2006, after joining the board, he signed off on two Bovis deals with Galt, which the DOI branded "a reincarnation" of Safeway. He apparently found Bovis's pitch for Galt—which won a $58 million contract covering the abatement and demolition of the building—more persuasive than the DOI's 10-page January 2006 memo blasting the company. "Investigators felt that their warnings had been ignored," the Times later noted. The DOI told the Voice that it "made its objections well known," but the spokeswoman said she "would not comment" on the agency's interactions "with the mayor's office."