Testwell Laboratories owner and 3 employees go to trial

(New York) — Fourteen months after a lab owner was accused of faking structural tests at scores of buildings, officials have okayed only a small fraction of the potentially dangerous sites.

When Testwell Laboratories and owner Reddy Kancharla were charged in October 2008 with falsifying thousands of required concrete- and steel-strength test results, officials vowed to make sure all the buildings were safe.

Since then, the Buildings Department has passed only 18 of the 91 affected Testwell buildings inits jurisdiction, department spokesman Tony Sclafani said.

Kancharla and three employees go on trial in Manhattan Supreme Court tomorrow. Two co-defendants have pleaded guilty.

The fudged tests raise the specter of future disasters.

“In the worst-case scenario, it creates the potential for [structural] failure,” said Matt Senecal of the American Concrete Institute.

Prosecutors say Testwell’s decade of finagling allowed it to provide reports far faster than possible if tests were properly performed – creating savings for contractors and huge profits for Testwell.

Dozens of office skyscrapers and apartment houses have not been retested. The list of public sites includes Engine Co. 94 in the Bronx, Brooklyn Borough Hall, Hunter College, NYU, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Columbia University, New York Law School, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Brooklyn Museum and Weill Cornell Medical College.

Sclafani blamed the delay on a lack of procedures for analyzing concrete strength in completed buildings. The department worked for months to develop a reliable protocol, he said.

An additional 28 potentially dangerous sites are controlled by noncity agencies such as the Port Authority and the School Construction Authority. Of those, several – including 7 World Trade Center, the Freedom Tower and some Metropolitan Transportation Authority projects – have been judged safe, agency officials said.

Testwell, which pulled in about $20 million a year, concocted results of tests never performed and used computer projections instead of mixing and testing concrete in the lab, prosecutors say.

Kancharla and co-defendants William Barone, Alfredo Caruso and Wilfred Sanchez face 8-1/3 to 25 years in prison if convicted of the top charge, enterprise corruption.

Testwell engineers William Porter and Michael Sterlacci have pleaded guilty.

Former Testwell lab director Kaspal Thumma is set to testify that Kancharla trained him and other employees to falsify data. Workers were instructed to “use a code word” in e-mails about altering test results, court papers charge.

Kancharla said in court papers the mix designs were based on standard formulas and clients knew what they were getting.

SOURCE: www.nydailynews.com

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