One year after officials at a major New York concrete testing company were convicted of falsifying reports, including many involving public works projects, employees of another such company are charged with similar crimes.
Alan Fortich, 44, owner of American Standard Testing and Consulting Laboratories; his brother Alvaro Fortich Jr., 32; and four engineers with the company are accused of falsifying some 3,000 test results involving the new Yankee Stadium, a subway project, a tower at LaGuardia Airport, and hundreds of other projects.
|New York’s Second Avenue Subway is among the public works projects where bogus concrete strength and quality testing have been alleged. Officials say the project has been retested and is safe.|
The six pleaded not guilty Thursday (Aug. 4) to a 29-count indictment on corruption and fraud charges in state Supreme Court in Manhattan. Alan Fortich was released on $250,000 bond; the other defendants were released in exchange for surrendering their passports.
Lawyers for the defendants denied the allegations; one lawyer called the case “an interpretive thing.”
Prosecutors say American Standard fabricated nearly all of its work from 1997 to 2009, earning millions of dollars in fees in the process.
The defendants had been retained to perform required testing of the strength and quality of concrete poured on projects in New York City and Westchester County and on Long Island. The six are charged under the state’s racketeering law.
“The volume of fabricated tests is egregious,” Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said Thursday. “It was systematic. It was pervasive.”
The scheme also allegedly included falsifying documents to get city licenses and manipulating government programs to obtain jobs for which they were not entitled, according to the charges.
In all, American Standard is alleged to have forged thousands of test reports for work on the Lincoln Tunnel, the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, the Port Authority Bus Terminal, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s new Fulton Transit Center and East Side Access project, the new air-traffic control tower at La Guardia Airport, a building at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Weill Medical College, Columbia University and the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, among other projects.
Subway, Stadium Called Safe
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) said Saturday that construction at the Second Avenue subway—one project inspected by American Standard—was safe. She said the concrete had been successfully retested by another company.
“I called the MTA, they told me that this concrete was used in only one site on the Second Avenue subway, on 96th Street with the boring tunnel, and that they have retested this site and found that it is safe,” said Maloney.
|A spokeswoman for the Yankees said the organization had conducted its own investigations during construction of the new stadium.|
Alice McGillion, a spokeswoman for the Yankees, said the stadium was also safe. She emphasized that the indictment had stemmed in part from investigations conducted by the Yankees.
Investigators initially found cracks in the concrete at the airport and at the Javits Center, but officials said they did not represent serious structural threats, the Times reported. A spokeswoman for the district attorney said the fissures had been fixed.
Prosecutors and city officials say they do not believe any falsified tests posed hazards, because most of the concrete poured in New York is of high quality, the Times said. Nonetheless, as it did in the Testwell Labs case, the city’s Department of Buildings must now retest scores of projects where American Standard is accused of falsifying tests.
This month’s indictment came one year after executives at Testwell Laboratories, once one of the city’s chief concrete testing companies, were found guilty of enterprise corruption after faking results at many of the same projects.
In fact, The New York Times reported, American Standard was hired to retest on several major projects after the Testwell fraud came to light.
Prosecutors said investigators started looking into tests the two companies had done at Yankee Stadium three years ago.
Indeed, the American Standard investigation grew out of the Testwell case. In late 2008, after prosecutors concluded that Testwell had falsified results, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority selected American Standard to replace Testwell on the $4.3 billion Second Avenue subway project. American Standard also worked on the $2.1 billion extension of the No. 7 line.
Before long, however, American Standard was also under investigation.
Testwell, its owner and vice president, and seven other officers and employees were all convicted of crimes. Owner V. Reddy Kancharla was sentenced to 7 to 21 years in prison.
The Testwell investigation began after Thacher Associates, a construction monitor hired by the Yankees and the Port Authority, uncovered irregularities in the concrete testing at Yankee Stadium and at Ground Zero, officials said.
Safety Tests Skipped
The American Standard indictment, unsealed Wednesday, also names Bruce Pumo, 58, and Shamin Akond, 43, the company’s lab directors from 1995 to 2010, and consulting engineers Michael Rabkin, 53, and Richard Kasparian, 71, employees of the company from 2006 to 2008. At the time he worked for American Standard, Akond also worked for MTA, earning $78,199 annually, reports said.
“Specifically, for at least the last 10 years, the defendants’ role was to perform tests and inspections mandated by the New York City building code relating to the strength and quality of concrete used in construction projects,” the indictment said.
“Instead, defendants regularly skipped vital safety tests and created false reports to create the impression that the tests were performed.”
Leveling the Playing Field
Vance said the investigation was continuing.
“It’s not as if there are not legitimate players [in New York’s construction industry],” he said, but legitimate players “can’t compete” unless investigators “get the fraud out on the table and create a level playing field. That’s what we are committed to doing further in this investigation.”
New York City currently has licensed 33 concrete-testing labs, said a spokesman for the Department of Buildings. The city implemented has issued more than 550 violations since initiating a new audit program last year.