Morgy’s Deutsche probe will not stop at crimes

By Josh Rogers

Downtown Express photo

istrict Attorney Robert Morgenthau, seen here in 2003 at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Battery Park City, is planning to issue a report criticizing any official who did anything wrong in the fatal Deutsche fire, accoring to a source briefed on the investigation.

Any officials guilty of wrongdoing, but not crimes, in the deadly Aug. 18 Deutsche Bank fire, will be rebuked by District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, a source briefed on the investigation said.

Morgenthau’s prosecutors are focused on possible crimes committed by contractors and government officials involved with the Deutsche demolition and fire, but the D.A. also plans to issue a public report outlining any other misdeeds, the source told Downtown Express. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing.

“No stone will go unturned,” he said, adding that the city’s efforts to talk to witnesses first has raised prosecutors’ ire, but it will not block their investigation. The report will be akin to D.A. reports on police shootings, he added. It likely will be some time before it is released because it will follow the criminal probe.

Fire investigators have concluded the blaze was started by a cigarette and that smoking was not uncommon in the building, even though it contained combustible materials and there was a no smoking rule. The building’s standpipe was broken and had not been tested in over a decade, leaving firefighters without a source of water.

Numerous federal, state and city agencies were responsible for overseeing the demolition and it is owned by the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., a federally-funded public authority that is under the effective control of the governor.

“It’s incredible,” said the source. “They sent 100 men into a fire without any water. A six-year old knows better.”

A second source said that one unflappable homicide prosecutor who is used to inspecting grisly crime scenes was in utter shock after seeing how unsafe the building was for the firefighters, calling it a “deathtrap.”

Firefighters Joseph Graffagino, 33, and Robert Beddia, 53 were both killed in the fire.

Prior to the fire, L.M.D.C. officials had repeatedly assured residents the demolition would proceed safely. Over the years, Community Board 1, environmental activists and local politicians raised concerns over many aspects of the project including the L.M.D.C.’s hiring of a contractor with alleged mob ties, John Galt Corp.; falling debris from the building; and fire safety violations.

At the end of last year, the L.M.D.C. passed direct supervision of the Deutsche building to its subsidiary, the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center and it has taken it back since the fire.

Last week, it was revealed that Charles Maikish, the former executive director of the Construction Center, wrote a memo in May warning L.M.D.C. Chairperson Avi Schick that Maikish did not have enough staff to properly supervise the project.

The memo was written soon after a 15-foot pipe fell off the building and crashed through the next-door firehouse, injuring two firefighters slightly. Errol Cockfield, Schick’s spokesperson, said the L.M.D.C. has no record that anyone ever received Maikish’s memo.

But Maikish’s concerns about the project were not confined to a private memo. In June, he told C.B. 1 members that the push to speed up the demolition led to the pipe crash.

“When you change the routine, that’s when things can go awry,” he said then. Downtown Express published a page 1 article about the meeting headlined “Deutsche rush led to mishap, official admits.”

Maikish left the center and his spokesperson declined to comment.

On Wednesday, the New York Times reported that Galt prepared a fire emergency plan, that was given to the L.M.D.C., but the development corporation never passed on the information to the fire department. Because of the building’s toxic chemicals in the building, the stairways were blocked with plywood and the emergency trap doors were unsafe for firefighters, the Times reported.

Cockfield, the L.M.D.C., spokesperson, declined to comment on why the fire safety plan was never given to the fire department.