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Crane mechanic freed after plea deal

A mechanic who admitted to criminally negligent homicide in the 2008 Manhattan collapse of a defectively repaired crane that killed two construction workers received no jail time Tuesday despite impassioned pleas from families of the victims.

Tibor Varganyi, 66, was promised no jail time in a plea deal with District Attorney Cy Vance last year in return for testifying against his boss, New York Crane and Equipment Corp. president James Lomma. A judge in April acquitted Lomma of all charges.

"It is obvious to me that he pled guilty and he expected to get away with murder," said Maria Leo, the mother of crane operator Donald Leo. "Why should he not be punished? This man is one of many who got my son to climb into a death trap . . . The loss I have suffered will never go away."

But the prosecutor and Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Thomas Farber said that Varganyi had fulfilled his part of the plea deal. The mechanic apologized to the families before being let go with a sentence of one year of community service.

"As a father myself, I am so sorry for the loss of your loved one," Varganyi said, turning to address relatives of Leo, 30, of Staten Island, and Ramadan Kurtaj, 27, of the Bronx, the other worker who died. "I did not mean to hurt anyone or put anyone at risk in this action."

The 200-foot crane collapsed during work on an Upper East Side apartment building in May 2008.

Prosecutors alleged that Varganyi and Lomma had hired an incompetent Chinese company to repair the turntable, because it was willing to do the work faster and for less money than American companies, and the collapse occurred because of defective welds.

Lomma was in a hurry because the crane rented for $50,000 a month, Varganyi testified. The collapse occurred a month after the crane was put back in service. Lawyers for Lomma and the company argued at his manslaughter trial that it was just an accident. He still faces civil suits from families of the workers.

Xhevahire Sinnaj, Kurtaj's cousin, said in a statement on behalf of his parents, who live in Kosovo, that the acquittal and the plea deal had left them little hope for a tough sentence for Varganyi.

"It is hard to put trust in a system that has failed us," she said. "The only lesson our family has learned is that if you have enough money you can beat an open-and-shut case."

Leo's mother said she believed Varganyi had held back evidence to protect Lomma, and said the courtroom apology meant little.

"It's too late," she said. "A meager apology, now, at his sentencing? He didn't apologize in four years."

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