NYC contractor charged with manslaughter in worker's death
- A Brooklyn, NY, construction company owner is facing manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide charges in relation to a 2015 wall collapse that killed one of his employees, according to The New York Times.
- Prosecutors said Michael Weiss ignored requests from employees of his two companies for the materials necessary to shore up a wall next to the site where they were working. The wall collapsed, killing 18-year-old Fernando Vanegaz and injuring two others.
- Weiss allegedly used someone else's license to secure city project approvals and did not follow work plans he filed with the city. Weiss, who pleaded not guilty to the charges, faces up to 15 years in prison.
Prosecutors also charged Weiss, along with his companies RSBY NY Builders and Park Ave Builders, with other offenses including tax and workers' compensation fraud, grand larceny, reckless endangerment and assault.
New York City has seen 33 construction-related deaths since January 2015, according to Eric Gonzalez, the acting Brooklyn district attorney. Some have blamed the city's building boom for creating the conditions that have allowed more incidents to occur, but prosecutors have shifted their focus to construction company owners and are bringing criminal charges in the most serious cases of negligence.
One of those cases played a significant role in Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance's decision to form the Construction Fraud Task Force, which investigates safety violations and construction fraud.
In April 2015, 22-year-old Carlos Moncayo died after a trench in which he was working on a Manhattan job site collapsed. Prosecutors charged the general contractor, Harco Construction, with criminally negligent homicide and manslaughter. Even though the company was convicted of those charges, it ended up paying a fine of only $10,000 after refusing the initial order to pay for print and television public safety ads.
Moncayo's employer, subcontractor Sky Materials Corporation, pleaded guilty to manslaughter last month and must also pay a $10,000 fine, as well as $100,000 to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Sky foreman Wilmer Cueva was sentenced in December to one to three years in prison for disregarding safety warnings before the accident, and Harco employee Alfonso Prestia was sentenced to community service and probation.
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