The city's former chief crane inspector admitted taking more than $10,000 in payoffs to fake inspection and crane operator licensing exam results, selling out a 28-year career bit by bit over nearly a decade.
James Delayo showed no emotion Tuesday as he pleaded guilty to receiving bribes and read a short statement in court acknowledging his crimes in a case that helped raise questions about the city's oversight of construction and spurred changes designed to keep a tighter rein on cranes.
Delayo was arrested days after the second of two huge cranes collapsed, killing nine people, in 2008. The charges against him weren't tied to the collapses, but authorities portrayed the case as one in a series to go after builders and inspectors accused of shortchanging safety for profit.
"He sold out and compromised public safety for tainted cash," Department of Investigation Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn said in a statement.
Delayo's plea deal calls for a sentence of two to six years in prison. He's free on bail until his sentencing, set for May 4.
His lawyer, David Oddo, said outside court Delayo "is devastated by what has happened. ... He feels that he's let a lot of people down."
Delayo, 61, started working for the city Department of Buildings in 1982, rising to become its acting head of crane inspections in 2008.
He also worked part time as a crane inspector on the World Trade Center cleanup from Sept. 12, 2001, until May 2002, according to federal court papers he filed in a lawsuit against private companies that apparently employed him. The outcome of the suit, which said he was sickened by toxic air and dust, wasn't immediately clear Tuesday evening from electronic court records.
But meanwhile, he also took bribes from 2000 to 2008 to file phony paperwork indicating a Long Island-based crane company had passed inspections that hadn't been done and to say an employee had passed a licensing exam the worker hadn't even taken, among other favors he admitted.
Prosecutors have said Delayo's individual payoffs ranged from $200 to $3,000.
Oddo said Delayo sometimes gave the cranes in question a quick look, if not a full inspection, and felt they were safe. But Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said Delayo's "willful disregard for the safety of this equipment and the skill of crane operators endangered the lives of Manhattan's residents, visitors and construction workers."
An official and a worker with the crane company, Copiague, N.Y.-based Nu-Way Crane Service, have pleaded not guilty to bribery and record tampering. The official, Michael Sackaris, 50, and worker Michael Pascalli, 25, are due back in court April 9.
City buildings officials note that they have added crane inspectors, increased training requirements and changed the licensing exam procedure for some crane operators since the 2008 collapses. In a change prompted by the Delayo case, licensing exams for operators of some types of cranes are now administered by a national group, buildings spokesman Tony Sclafani noted Tuesday.
Meanwhile, a crane rigging contractor has been charged with manslaughter in one of the collapses; a crane owner and a former mechanic face manslaughter charges in the other. Besides Delayo, another former crane inspector faces charges including tampering with public records after being accused of lying about examining one of the fallen cranes 11 days before it collapsed.
All have pleaded not guilty.