NYC crane official arrested

June 6, 2008 8:28:18 PM PDT
A senior city buildings official took bribes in exchange for falsely reporting that cranes had been inspected and that crane operators had been certified, but his actions did not appear to be connected to two recent crane collapses that killed nine people, authorities said Friday.City investigators said James Delayo, acting chief inspector with the Department of Buildings' cranes and derricks division, took thousands of dollars in bribes from a crane company and falsely reported that the company's mobile cranes had been inspected and that its crane operators had taken and passed examinations.

The city said Delayo's indiscretions apparently had no connection with the two cranes involved in fatal collapses this year. Those cranes were both tower cranes, not the mobile cranes at the center of this investigation, although Delayo was also in charge of inspections for tower cranes.

Delayo was released without bail after he was arraigned Friday on charges of bribe receiving, tampering with public records, falsifying business records, filing a false instrument and receiving unlawful gratuities. He entered no plea and his lawyer, Lawrence Linzer, declined to comment.

The charges represent another embarrassment for Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration as it tries to quell the outrage over the two collapses, one at a site on East 51st Street in March, and another last week on East 91st Street. Together the incidents killed nine people.

Bloomberg said in a statement that his administration has "zero tolerance for any corruption anywhere in city government," and said it was particularly "deplorable" when it occurred in an agency charged with protecting the public.

His last Buildings Commissioner resigned following the March disaster. Acting Commissioner Robert Limandri said he was "outraged" by investigators' findings and pledged to forge ahead with major reforms at the agency.

The city's Department of Investigation commissioner, Rose Gill Hearn, said in a statement that it was troubling that an official responsible for ensuring that cranes are safe in New York City would be "selling out his own integrity in a way that compromised public safety."

Officials said the city had been investigating the cranes and derricks division for several months, but this recent arrest stemmed from a tip investigators recently received after the state Inspector General issued a report about the licensing of crane operators by the state Labor Department.

No other city inspectors were charged Friday, but officials said the probe is ongoing.

Delayo, 60, has worked for the Buildings Department since 1982, a career that spans the administrations of four mayors and several buildings commissioners. The Department of Investigation said he earns $74,224 and faces suspension. He is due back in court Oct. 7.

City investigators said Delayo had been taking bribes from the company since 2002. He was paid in exchange for signing off on crane inspections that he did not perform, for bribes of $200 to $500, and helped crane operators cheat on licensing exams by providing the questions and answers, the city said.

In one case, he allegedly accepted a $500 bribe for letting a crane operator pass an exam without even taking it.

The Long Island-based crane company that bribed him was not immediately identified by officials.

Delayo also worked part-time as a crane inspector on the cleanup of the 2001 World Trade Center attack, putting in about four hours a day from Sept. 12 until May of the following year.

He is now suing the private companies that apparently employed him, claiming he was sickened by toxic air and dust. According to federal court papers, Delayo has suffered respiratory problems like coughing and shortness of breath since his time on the pile of rubble.

A Buildings Department spokeswoman could not say whether Delayo was moonlighting or was on the site as part of his city job, and said the matter was under investigation.

In his first year working for the city, in 1982, a derrick boom that Delayo had reportedly inspected himself was involved in a fatal collapse on a construction site in midtown Manhattan.

According to news reports, Delayo had inspected and "approved for use" the 70-foot derrick boom a week before it collapsed; a panel later blamed engineering deficiencies in the accident, which killed one person.

Mobile cranes move around on the ground and are smaller than tower cranes, which are fixed and typically assembled piece by piece at a construction site. On a large building project in the city, one might see one or two tower cranes and several other mobile cranes working down below.

Right now citywide, there are about 200 mobile cranes in operation and 26 tower cranes, according to the Department of Buildings.