The construction company found guilty in connection with the death of a 22-year-old worker in Manhattan last spring was handed a light sentence today, but Ron Fischetti, the firm’s attorney, said in court today that it “will not obey it.”
Judge A. Kirke Bartley ruled that Manhattan-based Harco Construction could fund and take part in a court-sanctioned public service announcement on TV, advocating in English and Spanish for stricter construction safety, or get slapped with a $10,000 fine. Neither options works for Harco and Fischetti said the company plans to appeal the verdict.
“We cannot do that,” he told Commercial Observer following the court’s proceedings today, referring to the public service announcements. “It’s not that we will not do it; we cannot do it. We could just let this go and pay the $10,000 fine. But we’re not doing it because they didn’t do anything wrong.”
By participating in the ad campaign, which Fischetti said would cost “hundreds of thousands” of dollars, “we would have to bear some of the responsibility of the accident, and we’re not guilty.”
Harco was found guilty of manslaughter last month in relation to the April 6, 2015 death of Carlos Moncayo, a 22-year-old immigrant from Ecuador. He was working in an excavation trench at 9-19 Ninth Avenue in the Meatpacking District, a building under redevelopment by Aurora Capital Associates and William Gottlieb Real Estate for which Harco is the general contractor. A city safety inspector visited the property that day, found the pit to be structurally unsound and ordered workers to evacuate it immediately. That’s when the walls came tumbling in, trapping and crushing Moncayo.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr., indicted Harco and subcontractor Sky Materials Corporation on charges of manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and reckless endangerment in August 2015, as CO reported at the time. The subcontractor is still being tried separately. Following today’s decision, Fischetti maintained that the responsibility lay solely on Sky Materials Corporation.
Sky Materials Corporation “is responsible,” he said. “We’re certainly going to appeal…because it’s Harco’s reputation. This verdict is completely improper.”
Brian Gardner, the attorney representing Sky Materials Corporation, did not immediately return requests for comment.
Moncayo’s death was one in a string of construction-related accidents, many fatal, coming amid the current construction boom. Last year alone, the number of such accidents—including multiple injuries and deaths—spiked 40 percent to 323 compared with 231 in 2014, according to a New York City Department of Buildings analysis previously provided to CO. Prosecutors have begun targeting repeat violators, especially at job sites consistently fined for safety violations, as CO reported last month.
In a joint statement with New York City Department of Investigations Commissioner Mark Peters following today’s sentencing, Vance called for stricter safety regulations as well as harsher punishment for construction companies found guilty of such crimes.
“While we believe that the conviction alone should deter future negligence, unfortunately, the penalties that corporations face are modest and not commensurate with the harm caused, especially when an innocent worker like Carlos Moncayo dies,” the statement said. “Stiffer penalties, such as ones specifically related to corporate conduct leading to death and serious physical injury, are needed to deter criminal conduct and protect the integrity of the construction industry.”
Union bigwig Gary LaBarbera in remarks expressed dismay that Harco did not receive the maximum fine of $35,000 and also called for stricter construction safety. LaBarbera, the president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, represented one of 22 organizations that advocated for Harco to get the toughest penalty possible.
“It’s unfortunate that Harco Construction was not given the maximum penalty possible for the death of Carlos Moncayo, but nothing will change the fact that a young man was killed due to the recklessness of an irresponsible contractor,” he said in the statement issued following today’s sentencing. “Regardless the guilty verdict against Harco Construction is certainly progress in the fight for workers’ rights and sends a strong message that negligent contractors will be held accountable. Most importantly, the Building Trades stands in solidarity with the family of Carlos Moncayo and we will continue to push aggressively for stronger worker safety programs and standards on all building sites.”