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NYC: Engineer Lied on Inspection Report

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

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An engineer who declared a building’s façade was "safe" prior to part of that façade falling off and killing a toddler has been charged with allegedly filing a false report.

New York City investigators charged Maqsood Faruqi, 55, of Jackson, NJ, with one count of Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree, according to a Nov. 17 statement issued by city Commissioner Mark G. Peters.

According to the statement, Faruqi, who is a professional engineer, could face up to four years in prison for the class E felony. Faruqi was arraigned in Manhattan Supreme Court and released without bail, the New York Post reported.

‘Massive Breakdowns’

But the statement also said investigators found “widespread failures” by the city’s Department of Buildings (DOB) to enforce its own inspection rules.

New York City

Investigators say a series of missed safety issues and an engineer's false statements led to terracotta falling off the facade of The Esplanade Manhattan and killing a 2-year-old girl.

“This case represents massive breakdowns in basic public safety rules,” said Peters. “A licensed engineer falsified safety forms obscuring a building’s danger. He is now under arrest.

“While DOB did not get this warning, it did ignore other red flags, and failed, on a wholesale basis, to enforce a law designed to prevent the very tragic death that occurred earlier this year,” the commissioner continued. “Fortunately, after meeting with [Department of Investigation] the city has now moved swiftly to remedy this problem.”

Toddler’s Death

According to the investigator's report, Faruqi—who owns Blue Print Engineering—was hired by D&N Construction in 2011 to supervise a required façade inspection at the The Esplanade Manhattan assisted-living facility. D&N had been hired by the owners of The Esplanade Manhattan. Investigators said the assisted-living facility had been fined several times for not submitting required façade reports.

In his report, Faruqi said the façade at The Esplanade was “safe”, according to investigators. But on May 18, 2015, terracotta from the building’s eighth story fell off the façade and killed 2-year-old Greta Greene. The toddler had been sitting with her grandmother on a bench outside of the building when the terracotta fell, according to a May 20 article in the New York Post.

After the death, Faruqi told investigators he had not visited the building prior to signing off on the report, the news outlet reported.

Local Law 11

Investigators said in their statement that the engineer had failed to comply with Local Law 11 requirements when he said he had supervised the façade but actually had not done so. The law, according to reports, regulates façade inspections in New York City.

©iStock.com / Robert Ingelhart

Although Maqsood Faruqi admitted that he did not inspect the building in person, his attorney said that Local Law 11 did not require him to do so. If convicted, he faces up to four years in prison.

Faruqi’s attorney, Joseph Lo Piccolo, told The New York Times that the law does not require engineers to visit a building and disputed authorities’ statements that the engineer did not review the building’s records.

“There wasn’t any criminal law, penal-law code or city code that was violated in any actions by Mr. Faruqi’s company,” Lo Piccole told the New York Post.

Warning Signs

Still, investigators said Faruqi’s actions were not their only concerns.

A little more than a year before Greene’s death, part of the building’s façade fell to the sidewalk. The DOB was notified but never sent anyone to inspect the building, the report indicates.

Then, just seven months before the toddler’s death, a private consultant inspecting a neighboring building told the DOB that he saw a “scary” crack on The Esplanade’s façade. In an email sent to the agency, the consultant told the DOB to “get someone over pretty quick” to look at it. The DOB’s façade unit “acknowledged” the email, but took no further action, investigators said.

Recommendations

In their report, investigators also said that as of February 2015, 2,490 buildings had failed to file façade inspection reports. That list includes 101 buildings owned by the city, the report said.

©iStock.com / simazoran

Investigators have recommended several changes to the local inspection rules, and the family of the toddler killed hopes they will prevent another tragedy from occurring.

Investigators in their statement said they had suggested 10 policy changes to Local Law 11. Those include:

  • Creating a tracking database;
  • Making the information easier for the public to access;
  • Implementing an inspection alert system;
  • Re-inspecting within three months on buildings that had façade violations until the problem is corrected;
  • Inspecting all buildings within six months if a façade violation was issued;
  • Inspecting buildings within six months if its owners fail to file a façade report;
  • Conducting random audits;
  • Creating a system for accepting façade complaints;
  • Requiring building owners to file additional certifications with the Local Law 11 filings; and
  • Requiring inspectors to report in detail any unsafe conditions discovered and how to remedy them.

Arrest Reactions

According to multiple media reports, the owners of The Esplanade—known as the Scharf family—declined comment, as did D&N Construction.

But Greene’s parents said they were “surprised and dismayed” by the failures documented in the investigation yet grateful for the city’s district attorney for pursuing the investigation and filing charges. The family has sued The Esplanade, according to The New York Times.

“Our hope is that these findings will lead to stricter regulations surrounding building inspections and repairs citywide, and that we can prevent what happened to Greta from ever happening again,” the Greenes said in a statement provided to The Times. “We remain heartbroken over our loss, and it is painful for us to discover just how preventable it was.”

   

Tagged categories: Building codes; Building facades; Enforcement; Engineers; Inspection

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