Five people were arrested Thursday on numerous charges — including homicide — related to the catastrophic March 2015 gas explosion in the East Village which killed two young men, injured 13 others and leveled three buildings.
The explosion was caused by a series of improper and illegal construction shortcuts involving the gas line, which leaked and effectively turned a five-story building at 121 Second Ave. into a bomb, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said at a news conference announcing the indictments.
Indicted on charges of second-degree manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and other related counts were Maria Hrynenko, 56, who Vance said owned the building; and her son and building manager Michael Hrynenko, 30. Maria Hrynenko lives in Palisades, in Rockland County, and her son in nearby Sparkill. Also facing homicide and related charges were Athanasios “Jerry” Ioannidis, 59, of Queens and Dilber Kukic, 40, of the Bronx, Vance said.
Andrew Trombettas, 53, of Queens, was charged with offering a false instrument for filing; he’s accused of lending his plumbing credentials to Kukic, who was working as an unlicensed plumber, Vance said.
All five defendants were arrested early Thursday without incident and were taken after booking to Manhattan State Supreme Court for arraignment, said NYPD chief of detectives Robert Boyce.
During arraignments before Judge A. Kirke Bartley Jr., Assistant District Attorney Deborah Hickey said “these defendants were driven by greed in this case, they were unswayed by a concern for public safety. . . . They all let loose a hell firestorm of awful proportions.”
“This fatal explosion that killed two people and injured more than a dozen demonstrates starkly what happens when construction professionals ignore the regulations that protect this city,” Department of Investigation Commissioner Mark G. Peters said in a prepared statement.
The bodies of two men who died in the explosion — restaurant worker Moises Locon and Nicholas Figueroa, who was dining at the ground-floor restaurant, weren’t found for three days as rescuers sifted through the rubble, said Boyce.
Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro said at the news conference that the fire sparked by the explosion was so intense he feared some of his firefighters could have been killed as they rushed into the buildings in search of survivors and to quell the blaze.
Vance spelled out a detailed chronology of the tragic events, which began in 2013 when Maria Hrynenko hired Kukic as a general contractor to renovate apartments in the building, which housed four floors of apartments and a street-level Japanese restaurant known as Sushi Park. Kukic hired Ioannidis, who did not have a plumbing license, to do the plumbing work, Vance said.
To get around his lack of a license, Ioannidis is accused of paying his former partner, Trombettas, so he could use his master plumbing license and credential to submit paperwork to the city Department of Buildings and Con Edison, the indictment charges. Renting credentials is illegal, Vance said.
In a rush to start renting apartments for as much as $6,000 a month in early 2014, Maria Hrynenko told Kukic to tap the restaurant’s gas line so the living units would have gas service, something Kukic did with unsafe flexible hosing, Vance charged. After Con Ed discovered the hookup and turned off the building gas, another hookup was secretly done to a gas line at 119 Second Ave., which also was owned by Maria Hrynenko, officials charged. Subsequent mistakes by Kukic and Michael Hrynenko with the second hookup then led to the fatal leak of gas on March 26, 2015, minutes after a second Con Ed inspection, Vance said.
In court, Hickey said Maria Hrynenko “was undeterred by regulations that are in place for the delivery of gas” and she “jerry rigged” the system, and then after she was caught “she instructed her workers to come up with yet another illegal gas delivery system.”
Nigro said the explosion showed how a “callous choice to put money before common sense and safety” destroyed lives and devastated a community.
Speaking about the construction boom going on in the city, Vance said that if landlords and contractors take shortcuts they have “weaponized” buildings and set the stage for further disasters.
At arraignments late Thursday, Trombetta was freed on $100,000. For the Hrynenkos, Kukic and Ioannidis bail was set at $1 million and they were ordered to surrender their passports.
Defense attorney Michael Burke, who represents Maria Hrynenko and her son, said they would fight the charges.
“This was a tragedy and an accident but no crime was committed here by my client,” Burke said.
Attorneys for the other defendants either wouldn’t comment or denied their clients did anything wrong.
With Alison Fox and Rachel Uda