Conviction, but no blame for fatal crash, for Marquette

22 August 2012 by Cristina Brooks

The final criminal case on two New York tower cranes that collapsed in March and May 2008 has convicted inspector Edward Marquette of unrelated charges.

The court found Marquette offered false documents while he was a crane inspector for the Department of Buildings.

It acquitted him of all charges related to the crane that collapsed on E 51st Street, just 11 days after he should have inspected it.

Marquette's verdict came shortly after the conclusion of the trials of crane owner James Lomma and mechanic Tibor Varganyi.

The two had been charged with criminally negligent homicide over the collapse of a crane at E 91st Street, just a few weeks earlier, in March 2008.

In that case, Varganyi had pleaded guilty. Lomma fought the charges, and was acquitted.

Marquette was scheduled to inspect the crane on E 51st Street on March 4, 2008.

He didn't perform the inspection. The crane collapsed 11 days later on March 15, killing seven people and injuring 24.

The collapse was due to a nylon sling holding a tie-in collar that broke during jumping.

The sling was installed by rigging contractor William Rapetti, who was acquitted of manslaughter in July 2010.

Marquette waived his right to a jury trial and his case was heard by Justice Thomas Farber at the New York Supreme Court.

Prosecuting attorney Robert Morgenthau charged Marquette with 12 counts, including offering a false instrument for filing, tampering with public records, falsifying business records and official misconduct.

The false instrument count was punishable by a maximum of four years in prison.

Morgenthau alleged Marquette filed a false inspection on the E 51st Street crane on March 4.

Cell phone records from that date showed he was at home during the time he had reported inspecting it.

Defense attorney Andrew Freifeld said that Marquette's supervisor had never sent him to the site, but had asked him to say he had. Marquette had noted the address of the crane as a reminder to talk to his supervisor, he said.

He argued that the route sheet wasn't a 'written instrument', or an agreement expressed in writing, and moved to dismiss related charges.

Justice Farber rejected this suggestion that the route sheet was 'a relic like an appendix', noting that, "When the crane collapsed and [Department of Investigation] personnel went to investigate, the document that they went to look for among others was the route sheet; and that's because that's where you want to go if you want to find out whether an inspector was doing what he said he was doing at the time he said he was doing it."

Farber found Marquette guilty of offering a false instrument for filing, falsifying business records, and official misconduct.

The misconduct took place not on the date of alleged inspection of the collapsed crane, but on two dates in January 2008, when Marquette was shown to have falsified inspection of six cranes, he said.

The Justice said that he would not have found criminal conduct in the running of an occasional errand, but this was not a single occasion.

The Justice found "...A pattern of practice for the defendant to represent that he was in places where he was suppose to be when, in fact, he was no where near there."

Freeing Marquette from blame for charges related to the collapsed crane, the Justice said prosecutors hadn't shown that the route sheet involved had been officially filed.

He also dismissed as unproven charges relating to tampering with records.

Justice Farber said he would not set bail in the run up to Marquette's October sentencing hearing, noting that Marquette had been to every court session for the past five years.

This trial sees the close of inquiries following accidents that provoked widespread concern among the public and politicians in New York and around the world.

They led New York Department of Buildings to adopt 25 new laws, including having inspectors on site to oversee tower jumping and lowering operations.

In April, New York's mayor, Michael Bloomberg and DOB officials announced further reforms targeting crane operators.

The new laws will help the city reach the US government's goal, enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), of nationwide operator certification, and regular recertification, by 2014.

Photo credit: Warren Kendrick Photo credit: Warren Kendrick