A pair of construction managers and their companies face criminal charges in New York City in the case of a fatal trench collapse, newspapers reported this week. “Wilmer Cueva, Alfonso Prestia and their companies Sky Materials and Harco Construction were charged with recklessly causing the death of Carlos Moncayo, a Sky employee,” reports the Corporate Crime Reporter (see: “Manslaughter Charges in New York Trench Collapse Death of 22-Year Old Worker”).
Prosecutors say that the two bosses ignored repeated warnings from a construction inspector, including one warning that occurred just minutes before a 13-foot-deep trench wall collapsed and buried Moncayo. The New York Times has a report (see: “Manslaughter Charges for Construction Managers After Queens Worker Dies in Pit Collapse,” by David W. Chen). “Prosecutors said on Wednesday that the two managers — Wilmer Cueva, of Sky Materials, and Alfonso Prestia, of Harco Construction — had ignored repeated warnings for months from private inspectors that treacherous conditions existed at the site on Ninth Avenue,” the Times reports. “On the morning Mr. Moncayo died, prosecutors said, another private inspector noticed a seven-foot-deep trench, and alerted Mr. Prestia, who was inside a trailer at street level and unable to see inside the pit. The inspector also notified Mr. Cueva, who was at the site, supervising work. But Mr. Cueva did not do anything initially, prosecutors said. Nor did Mr. Prestia.”
The New York Daily News reports that Carlos Moncayo, the deceased employee, had paid for training in safety rules (see: “Construction managers at Meatpacking District site where young worker was killed surrender to prosecutors,” by Anthony Izaguirre and Dareh Gregorian). City Department of Investigation Commissioner Mark Peters said that a relative of Moncayo had paid $500 for the young man to take 26 hours of training on OSHA safety rules.
"The irony here is too great to ignore," Peters said. "An immigrant to this country who scrapes together $500 to make sure he complies with the laws and is trained on correct safety. A large company who can certainly afford to do things right decides to cut corners, evade the law, and gets that immigrant killed."
“Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney, also announced the creation of a task force to help identify and prosecute corruption and fraud in the construction business,” the New York Times reports. “And New York City officials said an emergency phone number would be set up by the Department of Buildings for the reporting of dangerous conditions.”
Vance’s office has been active in pursuing construction-related charges since his election as District Attorney in 2010. In one notable case, Vance’s office charged a New York City concrete testing firm with fraud, alleging that engineers faked the results for thousands of tests, including for several large, high-profile public projects. The New York Daily News reported on those charges in 2011 (see: “Safety lab executives face charges they faked concrete strength tests on buildings across the city,” by Brian Kates). Testing lab owner Alan Fortich drew a prison term in that case, as the New York Post reported in 2012 (see: “Construction lab boss headed to jail for faking concrete test results,” by Laura Italiano).
More recently, the Manhattan DA targeted dozens of contractors and building inspectors in an alleged “pay-to-play” bribery scheme, the Daily News reported (see: “City building inspectors, contractors to be charged in pay-to-play bribery probe,” by Greg B. Smith). “Up to 50 defendants are expected to be charged and face a long list of bribery counts following a yearlong probe by Department of Investigation in conjunction with the DA’s rackets division,” the paper reported. “The charges, to be announced Tuesday by DOI Commissioner Mark Peters and Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance Jr., detail a pervasive bribery scheme that's been playing out across the city for years, according to two sources familiar with the matter. Investigators uncovered a disturbing pattern of give-to-get, where inspectors would expedite projects and sign off on certificates of occupancy — for a fee.”