Chief Leader - May 29, 2012by SARAH DORSEY
Bovis, along with subcontractor John Galt Corporation, was found to have committed multiple safety violations at the site where Mr. Graffagnino and Firefighter Robert Beddia died, but avoided prosecution after agreeing to compensate the families of the slain men. The company will pay $9 million to Linda Graffagnino, whose children with her late husband are now 5 and 8, while the city will pay $1 million. The family of Mr. Beddia, who died at 53, accepted a settlement of $6 million in 2010.
'They Don't Make it Easy'
Joseph Graffagnino Sr. said he was happy the case had finally been settled and that he hopes a separate civil suit filed by his son's wife against John Galt Corporation will be successful.
"They've been blocking us for years so far," he said. "They don't make it easy on you, the city."
The two firefighters died Aug. 18, 2007 in a seven-alarm blaze at the Deutsche Bank building, which had been damaged on 9/11 and was simultaneously being demolished and undergoing toxic abatement by Bovis.
Mr. Graffagnino and Mr. Beddia became trapped on the 14th floor, in a stairwell whose protective safety walls had been removed. Every other floor was blocked off to contain the toxins being removed, and the required kick-out panels, which would have allowed escape, had not been installed. There was no working sprinkler system, and arriving firefighters were told the building's standpipe, which allows water to travel to upper floors, was operational, though it had been dismantled weeks before.
A Litany of Safety Complaints
Then-Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau slammed the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, a joint city-state entity that owned the property, in 2008 for failing to report nine fires in the previous 21/2 months to the FDNY, and three high-ranking fire officers were relieved of their command for failing to inspect the building every 15 days. Members of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, however, said the department shouldn't have been expected to enter a building filled with improperly-contained asbestos without proper equipment and training.
An e-mail to the LMDC from a consultant that later emerged had warned 15 days before the fire that the site was "an accident waiting to happen," citing improper management by the contractors and poor disposal of garbage and debris. It was believed that the blaze started when a worker tossed a lit cigarette into a pile of debris. Employees then waited 13 minutes to call the Fire Department, allowing the fire to rage out of control.
A June 2007 e-mail from the consultant, the URS Corporation, also faulted Bovis for attempting to rid the building of toxins while simultaneously demolishing upper floors, which URS had recommended against for safety reasons. The same e-mail complained that the consultant had to send 54 e-mails in the previous month about "safety observations that needed immediate attention by Bovis."
No Criminal Convictions
City officials escaped prosecution for the firefighters' deaths. Three supervisors at Bovis and John Galt Corporation were acquitted of manslaughter and criminally-negligent homicide.
Bovis Lend Lease admitted in April that it fraudulently billed the city and private developers for millions of dollars in phony overtime and other payments for at least 10 years, but again escaped prosecution by agreeing to pay $56.6 million in fines and restitution. One official, James Abadie, faces up to 20 years in prison for one count of fraud. Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch argued that too many workers would lose their jobs if the company were convicted and barred from government contracts.