7 On Your Side Investigates: City yet to collect fines on underground dance dangers

Thursday, June 15, 2017 06:01PM
Jim Hoffer has new details on the dangerous party conditions at a warehouse in the city.

NEW YORK - There are new details on an exclusive 7 On Your Side investigation.

Our cameras exposed potentially life-threatening conditions inside a massive warehouse turned into party halls.

Despite hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines, we've learned the city has yet to collect on the violations.

We've discovered the owner of the unsafe warehouse is near the top of the list of fines owed to the city.

It's more than a half-million dollars gone unpaid for years because as we discovered, the city up until our investigation has done nothing to enforce the fines.

When we went undercover at a dance rave last month, we found a potential fire trap with barricaded fire exits, boarded up doorways, and a narrow, crowded hallway that served as both main entrance and exit.

Our investigation also discovered the warehouse owner, Hoffman and Sons Realty, owes the city $600,000 in fines for safety violations at the warehouse, some of them dating back to 2013.

"As City Comptroller I want the money but more important I want a safe venue," said New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer.

Stringer says the city's failure to collect on the $600,000 in fines sends a message to Hoffman and Sons and other building owners with safety violations to continue taking risks with people's lives.

"The owner and the Department of Finance are playing with fire because tragedies like this do occur," he said.

Stringer's fear is that a warehouse dance fire like the one in Oakland that killed 36 people will occur here and he says if it does, the city will be partly to blame.

"You didn't shut it down if people are still going in the building, so shut it down," said Stringer.

Although the warehouse had a city order to vacate, we found it packed with young people dancing through the night.

As to the unpaid fines, it's up to the city's Finance Department to collect.

Back in 2009, a Comptroller audit slammed the Finance Department's weak collection attempts saying they "practically assured that it will collect no monies".

"There's a number of legal actions you take, but you have to keep the heat on, you have to follow up," said Stringer.

For nearly 4 years, the Finance Department did little more than send collection letters to warehouse owner, Hoffman and Sons.

It was only after our investigation that Finance issued orders authorizing City Marshals to seize the owner's property.

They own valuable buildings throughout the city and the CEO of the company owns a plush nearly $2 million ocean-front condo in Miami's Trump Palace.

Finance insists they've stepped up their overall collection efforts, nearly doubling fines collected in the past four years.

A closer look at the numbers reveals the city is only collecting one of every four dollars owed. While the city collected $83 million last fiscal year, it has failed to collect $252 million in unpaid fines.

"Because of this investigation you're conducting, this will motivate I think a lot of agencies, mine included, to step up and say enough is enough," said Stringer.

Collection of $600,000 in fines owed by Hoffman and Sons is now in the hands of the Sheriff who can execute city orders to seize property, even garnish bank account money.

A spokesperson for Finance says these actions have increased from just a handful to about 500 last year.

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