Saturday, September 15, 2007
Channeling Frankie Pentangeli's Brother
In the case of the Deutsche Bank Building fire investigation, Bloomberg said he is making sure every city employee cooperates with the investigations into the disaster that killed two firefighters back on August 18. But the NY Times reports today that Fire Department officials directed several firefighters involved in the tragedy to meet with city lawyers last week before they were to be questioned by prosecutors at NY District Attorney Robert Morgenthau's office. The Fire Department employees ignored the directive by their superiors to meet with Bloomberg's lawyers before going to Morgenthau's office and instead gave their accounts of the fire to prosecutors without interference by city lawyers.
This is not the first time Bloomberg has tried to have city employees involved in a tragedy meet with city lawyers before offering their stories to prosecutors. Back in 2003, city employees were debriefed by Bloomberg's lawyers before they met with federal prosecutors investigating the crash of the Staten Island Ferry. At that time, federal prosecutors complained that the city lawyers had a chilling effect on the willingness of city employees to criticize their superiors or reveal information that would not be in either their superiors' or the city's interests to investigators.
Remember the scene in The Godfather II when Michael Corleone quashes Frankie Pentangeli's testimony before the Senate by bringing Pentangeli's brother in from Sicily to sit in the gallery and stare at Frankie during the hearings, scaring him into recounting allegations he has made against the Corleone Family?
Sounds like Bloomberg does the same thing with city lawyers during criminal investigations where malfeasance and/or criminal liability may be revealed by city employees.
Only this time the firemen involved wouldn't play Bloomberg's game and the investigation is proceeding without Bloombergian interference. This is important because there seems little doubt that the deaths of two firemen could have been prevented had city officials conducted inspections or looked into the companies doing the work at the high profile site. Here's how the Times article puts it:
Relations between Mr. Morgenthau’s office and City Hall have become strained as prosecutors press their investigation into the fire at the contaminated former bank building, which looms over ground zero and is both an ugly reminder of 9/11 and of the government’s slow progress in rebuilding Lower Manhattan.
Prosecutors are focusing not only on the firefighters’ deaths, but also on the actions of several contractors and city and state officials and agencies. The city faces potentially significant civil liability in the case.
In particular, prosecutors are reviewing the work of several contractors, examining why the building had not been properly inspected by the city, and exploring how a company with little experience was approved by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation for the $60 million contract to demolish the building.
Firefighting units that responded to the blaze in the tower found that demolition work had created difficult conditions.
A standpipe used to deliver water to the upper floors had been dismantled, forcing fire companies to improvise with their own system of hoses, a procedure that delayed getting water on the fire.
Required inspections in the building, including tests of the standpipe, had not been done, and the stairwells had been sealed as part of efforts to remove asbestos.
Gee, no wonder Bloomberg tried to have city lawyers debrief the firemen before they met with prosecutors.
It sounds like the Fire Department, city agencies and the mayor himself have got some serious accountability problems in this case.