6 Charged With Falsifying Concrete Testing Results

“The volume of fabricated tests is egregious,” Mr. Vance told reporters. “It was systemic; it was pervasive.”

From left to right, Shamim Akond, Alan Fortich, Bruce Pumo, Michael Rabkin, Alvaro Fortich Jr. and Richard Kasparian await arraignment at New York Supreme Court on charges of falsifying concrete tests on construction projects in the New York area.

(New York)  —  One year ago, Testwell Laboratories, a concrete testing company, and two Testwell officials were found guilty of falsifying results on major public works projects. On Thursday, the owner and five employees at the company chosen to replace Testwell on some of those projects surrendered to face charges that they did the same thing on those jobs and hundreds of others.

They are accused of falsifying thousands of tests at Yankee Stadium, the Second Avenue subway, public schools, among many other projects, and private buildings.

A 29-count indictment charges the six men and the company, American Standard Testing and Consulting Laboratories, under the state racketeering law. It accuses them of a money-making scheme that included falsifying the results of tests required by law to measure the strength and quality of concrete poured on projects in New York City, Westchester County and Long Island. The decade-long scheme also included falsifying documents to get city licenses and manipulating government programs to get jobs for which they were not entitled, according to the charges.

The owner of the company, Alan Fortich, 44; his brother, Alvaro Fortich Jr., 32, and the four other defendants surrendered Thursday morning at the offices of the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr. They were expected to be arraigned later in State Supreme Court in Manhattan.

“The volume of fabricated tests is egregious,” Mr. Vance told reporters. “It was systemic; it was pervasive.”

None of the nearly 3,000 test reports that prosecutors seized from the company contained legitimate results, according to one person briefed on the investigation. Among other projects for which tests results were falsified were: the Lincoln Tunnel, the air traffic control tower at La Guardia Airport, the Javits Convention Center; a building at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum.

The person briefed on the inquiry said there were cracks in the concrete at the airport and at the Javits Center, but they did not represent a serious structural threat.

Richard R. Leff, a lawyer for American Standard and Alan Fortich, said on Wednesday that the accused “vehemently deny the allegations contained in the indictment.”

The indictment, which was unsealed on Wednesday, grew out of an investigation by the district attorney’s office labor racketeering unit into Testwell Laboratories, the largest such company in the New York area. The Testwell inquiry began in early 2008, and later that year, after prosecutors concluded that Testwell had falsified results, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority selected American Standard to replace Testwell on the agency’s $4.3 billion Second Avenue subway project and on the $2.1 billion extension of the No. 7 line.

But within months, American Standard had also come under scrutiny by the district attorney’s office, which investigated the companies along with the city Department of Investigation and the inspectors general of the transportation authority, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the School Construction Authority. Prosecutors won convictions last year against Testwell, its owner and vice president. The owner, V. Reddy Kancharla, was sentenced to 21 years in prison.

Concrete testing, such as the kind that is the subject of the charges against American Standard and Testwell, is a basic safety measure at construction sites, and investigators found irregularities in companies’ work at the new Yankee Stadium, One World Trade Center and hundreds of other sites.

But prosecutors and city officials have said that they do not believe any falsified tests posed hazards because most of the concrete poured in New York is of a high quality. Nonetheless, the city’s Department of Buildings oversaw the retesting at scores of sites in the Testwell case and will take similar measures, officials said, in the case of American Standard.

The 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, as did the authority’s own engineers, law enforcement officials and others briefed on the inquiries have said. The monitors gave the information to the office of the Manhattan district attorney, setting off the investigation in 2008.

In addition to Alan Fortich and Alvaro Fortich Jr., the indictment also charged American Standard’s lab directors from 1995 to 2010, Bruce Pumo,58, and Shamin Akond, 43, and two consulting engineers, Michael Rabkin, 53, and Richard Kasparian, 71, who the indictment said worked for the company from 2006 to 2008.

The men face a maximum of 25 years in prison if convicted of the most serious charges.

A lawyer for Mr. Akond, Sol Kodsi, said in a telephone message that he had received the indictment and that his client had “been cooperative with the investigation and will voluntarily appear” to surrender.

Alvo Fortich Jr.’s lawyer, Mark I. Cohen, said his client would plead not guilty to the indictment. “He has voluntarily surrendered for arrest and respects the legal process,” Mr. Cohen said, adding, “It is his intention to exercise his legal rights and answer the accusations in court.”

The charges detailed in the 45-page indictment allege that the scheme began within two years of Alan Fortich’s founding of the company, which is based in New Hyde Park, N.Y., in 1995, and that the company and the defendants constituted a criminal enterprise under the state racketeering law, the Organized Crime Control Act.

“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. Defendants filed these test reports with professional engineers throughout New York who relied on the results to assess the quality of building materials in hundreds of private and public construction projects.”

Alice McGillion, a spokeswoman for the New York Yankees, said the testing irregularities had caused no dangers at the stadium.

“The stadium is safe,” she said, and stressed that the new indictment, like the 2009 charges against Testwell, grew out of the investigations that the Yankees themselves had conducted.

When the investigation into American Standard was first disclosed in early 2009, Jeremy Soffin, a spokesman for the transportation authority, said in a statement that the transportation agency had “independently tested all critical concrete with no problems discovered.”

“We will continue to independently test,” he added, “to ensure safety and accuracy.”

SOURCE:  www.nytimes.com

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