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DA cracks craigslist construction safety scam

By Holly Dutton

Renegade contractors hired hairdressers and bellhops from craigslist to act as safety inspectors at city construction sites, according to charges filed by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office.

Richard Marini and Richard Sfraga, managed consulting firm Avanti, which purported to provide licensed site safety managers for active construction projects.

But an investigation by the New York City Department of Investigation (DOI) with assistance from the New York County District Attorney’s Office (DANY) found that between 2012 and 2014, Avanti and NYCB Engineering Group, LLC, falsified more than 450 documents at 40 construction sites across Manhattan.

“We are preventing harm by prosecuting wrongdoing in the construction industry,” said District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. in a statement. “My office takes public safety seriously, whether in regard to violent crimes or safety at construction sites. The joint action by DOI and my office will do just that.”

A total of two construction companies and seven individuals were indicted in the site safety fraud case that includes charges of Grand Larceny in the Second and Third Degrees, Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree, and Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument in the Second Degree.

“Forgery is a dangerous substitute for a trained safety manager on a construction site,” said New York City Department of Investigations (DOI) Commissioner Mark G. Peters.

“DOI teamed with the Manhattan District Attorney and the City Department of Buildings to uncover fraud and underscore safety at construction sites.”

According to the indictment, Marini and Sfraga, used craigslist and similar websites to recruit individuals who were not properly licensed or qualified to conduct safety inspections on construction projects. The non-licensed individuals hired by Marini included short order cooks, window treatment specialists, hotel bellhops, hairdressers, eBay vendors and musicians, all of whom worked as “interns” for Avanti.

Four of the “interns” were also charged in the indictment for their involvement in the scheme.

38 construction workers died in 2012.

Kishowar Pervez, vice president of NYCB Engineering Group, the second company named in the indictment, has been charged with allegedly subcontracting site safety plans for his clients to Avanti, which subsequently failed to provide certified inspectors for the construction projects.

Pervez is accused of billing clients for multiple hours of inspections each day, and instructing employees of NYCB to hire his personal friends and family members who were unlicensed by the Department of Buildings to complete safety logs on job sites.

A recent report by the advocacy group, New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH), found that 38 construction workers died on the job in New York State in 2012, making it the state’s deadliest industry.

Although construction accounts for only four percent of overall employment, it saw 19 percent of all work-related deaths.

The NYCOSH report claimed that many of these deaths could have been prevented if workplace safety standards were more strictly enforced.

It added that 66 percent of all sites inspected by the state between 2010 and 2012 violated at least one violation of safety standards set by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

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