Investigation: Contractors and unpaid fines

June 8, 2011 8:03:33 PM PDT
It was one of the worst construction accidents in the city's history: a crane collapsed killing 7 people. The Building's Department hit the general contractor, Reliance Construction, with $65,000 in fines. That was three years ago, and those fines are still unpaid.

A year ago, a worker fell to his death at the construction site in Brooklyn. The city hit Express Builders with 10 safety violations and $127,000 in fines.

A year later, Building Department records show the fines are still unpaid. The builder refused to meet with Eyewitness News but said he's dealing with the fines.

But many of the records show the fines are still owed and the city continues to grant the builder new permits to do more work.

And then there's New York's Hotel King Sam Chang who has made millions building budget hotels, but Eyewitness News' investigation has found he leaves behind a trail of unpaid fines.

Buildings Department records show his firm, Tritel Construction, owes $48,000 for safety violations in the building of this West Side Hotel.

They owe $33,000 in violations left unpaid after putting up a Double Tree Hotel and $26,000 in fines from unsafe construction practices while building another hotel in Lower Manhattan.

Yet, the city keeps issuing him new permits for new hotels: a dozen new permits last year alone.

"That just leads to an undermining of the whole inspection and therefore safety system that is supposed to be in place," said NYC Comptroller John Liu.

Two and a-half years ago, an audit by the city comptroller recommended that the city deny new permits to builders with outstanding fines. After all, the city is unforgiving when it comes to illegal parking, as it makes millions towing cars.

Eyewitness News asked the Building Commissioner why the city keeps granting permits to contractors who owe fines running in thousands.

"If you're a contractor, you want your day in court," said NYC Building Commissioner Robert LiMandri.

But what if these fines are 2-3 years old?

"The scrutiny on some of these contractors agreed, there are some contractors that don't want to play by the rules, they want to flout the law and we are taking steps against them," LiMandri said.

The three contractors responded to Eyewitness News' investigation, Cava, Tritel's Hotel King and Universal Construction, all claim that they're working with the city to pay what they owe, adding that they had not received notifications of some of the fines.

The Finance Department says it's taking several steps to increase collection but there is $421 million in outstanding Building Department fines.