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2 crane company officials charged in fatal collapse

Debris is scattered on the ground at the

Debris is scattered on the ground at the scene of a crane collapse on Manhattan's Upper East Side at 91st Street and 1st Avenue. (May 30, 2008) Credit: Getty Images

The owner and a top official of a crane company were charged with manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide Monday for their role in a 2008 crane collapse on East 91st Street in Manhattan that killed two people.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said James Lomma of Staten Island, two of his companies - New York Crane and Equipment Corp. and J.F. Lomma Inc. - and mechanic Tibor Varganyi of New Jersey put the crane into service with a defective weld.

"Greed and recklessness motivated by profit led to the tragic and unnecessary death of two men," Vance said at a news conference to unveil the charges.

The collapse, one of two fatal crane accidents in 2008, took the life of crane operator Donald Leo and construction worker Ramadan Kurtaj when the crane's boom broke off its tower and fell 200 feet. Workers were working on the 12th floor of a 32-story residential project.

According to Monday's charges, Lomma's company was renting the crane to the contractor on the project. The turntable - the part at the top of the tower that allows the boom to swivel - had been removed from service on another project because of a crack, costing Lomma $50,000 a month in rental income.

He had a Chinese company do a cheap repair, Vance charged, without checking out the company or hiring an engineer to oversee the repair, and using "grossly inadequate welding specifications." The Chinese company, in an e-mail, warned that its turntable weld might not hold, Vance said, and after six weeks in service it failed.

"Failing to keep the crane operational would have cost the defendants about $50,000 a month in rental fees, a price the defendants must have felt was too much to pay," he said. "Today, two families are paying a much greater price."

Vance said that the city building department has increased its oversight of cranes as a result of the 2008 accidents, but was not at fault. "Fundamentally what we believe happened here was deception of the department by the defendants," Vance said.

Lomma, 64, and Varganyi, 63, were released after pleading not guilty at their arraignments in Manhattan Supreme Court Monday. Varganyi was released on his own recognizance, and Lomma was ordered to post $100,000 bail by next week.

They face up to 15 years in prison on the manslaughter charge, and up to 5 years for criminally negligent homicide. They are also charged with assault and reckless endangerment.

Paul Shechtman, a lawyer for Lomma's two companies, said the Chinese company was a reputable firm, and the city inspectors were not deceived.

"What occurred here was an accident - a tragedy and not a crime," Shechtman said.

With AP

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