Deutsche Fire Verdict Sparks Fury

NY Post - July 07, 2011


The fire officers union is demanding a new investigation into the Deutsche Bank inferno after the third and final defendant in the case was acquitted yesterday.

Alexander Hagan, president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, said the gutted Ground Zero building's owner was the real culprit.

The Lower Manhattan Development Corp. "deliberately sacrificed safety for speed" while demolishing the damaged structure, and failed to act on warnings the building was vulnerable, he said.

"We feel that the people who were prosecuted and brought before the courts were scapegoats, and that the real people who were responsible, their actions have never been examined," Hagan said, referring to the hardhats targeted in a nearly four-year probe.

"There were decisions made way up the food chain. Those three defendants were pretty far down the food chain. There were people who were never investigated," Hagen said.

The case against them ended yesterday with the acquittal of Mitchel Alvo, who was in charge of scrubbing the so-called "toxic tower" of the fallen Twin Towers' dust and asbestos.

A jury cleared his two co-defendants last week of any wrongdoing for the Aug. 18, 2007, blaze, which killed two firefighters.

"Now I've just got to get on with my life and start making a living again," said Alvo, 59, as his fiancée stood by his side.

Alvo had faced up to 15 years in prison.

In the end, no one was found guilty of causing the deaths of firemen Robert Beddia, 53, and Joseph Graffagnino Jr., 33, by removing a basement emergency standpipe meant to carry water to fire hoses in 2006.

Only Alvo's employer, the John Galt Corp., a shell company set up in 2006, was convicted of a single misdemeanor reckless-endangerment charge by the judge.

The company faces up to a $5,000 fine when sentenced in early September, but its officials have vowed to challenge the verdict.

The case "raised consciousness and awareness about fire and building safety," said Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance Jr.

Since the charges were announced in December 2008, critics said the wrong people were being blamed.

"I'm glad the jurors and the judge saw through the DA's smoke screen trying to blame these guys. As we said from Day 1, they are trying to scapegoat these guys," said Joseph Graffagnino Sr.

"The individuals who made the decisions, the directors of the [Lower Manhattan Development Corp.] who pushed to go with the John Galt Company, who dictated to the contractors the conditions to have this firetrap, these are the ones who should be held accountable," he said.

Additional reporting by Philip Messing