An Inspector Pleads Guilty — We Are All Vulnerable

A building inspector who admits he did very little inspecting has brought to light a situation that should alarm all New Yorkers.

The responsibility for inspecting New York buildings for lead and asbestos violations is divided among several city agencies. And, when something is found to be amiss, they don’t tell each other about it!

Saverio Todaro, a man licensed to assess asbestos and lead risks in building and construction sites throughout the city, admitted in federal court that, although he reported that he found no danger in more than 200 buildings, he had not performed even one test! This scandalous admission goes to the heart of what’s wrong with the bureaucracy’s approach to building safety.

According to The New York Times, Todaro’s fraud goes back at least a decade during which he submitted clean asbestos and lead test results for more than 200 buildings -- without doing a lick of inspecting. It raises the question of whether other inspectors have failed in their responsibilities too.

Did he conspire with others to cook the books on his inspections? Are there other phony inspections filed with city agencies?

Dick Dadey of Citizens Union told me the story is “frightening.” He pointed out that Todaro’s inspection license was suspended in 2004 by the city’s environmental agency for improper building surveys and poor record keeping. But other agencies involved in safeguarding the public were not notified.. The others are: the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, the Department of Buildings and the Health and Mental Hygiene Department.

Said Dadey: “This man had trouble in 2004. What’s shocking is that this information was not shared. Had it been known by other agencies, this might not have happened.”

Daniel J. Castleman, the former chief assistant to the previous Manhattan District Attorney, Robert Morgenthau, called the situation a “disaster.”

He put it to me this way: “Why should four agencies have the responsibility? That is too diffuse. In such a situation, things are bound to happen because nobody has sole responsibility.”

Castleman noted that there were 500 licensed asbestos inspectors and 1,500 asbestos inspectors in the city. There are only 14 inspectors, he said, who work directly for the city. Thus, the inspection of buildings is carried out mainly by private inspectors.

Castleman deplores the fact that “there’s no audit function for private inspectors.” In his 30-year career as chief assistant in the Manhattan DA’s office, Castleman brought racketeering and fraud charges against companies hired to test the strength of concrete at some of the biggest construction projects.

“Obviously,” he said, “there will always be those who take a shortcut to make money, whether it’s in the inspection of lead or asbestos, concrete or steel.’

Asbestos exposure has been related to lung cancer and other ailments. Young children are especially susceptible to lead poisoning, which can affect brain functions.

The revelations about the way building and site inspections are carried out is a horror show. In a city with a 64 billion dollar budget, one is bound to wonder what other irregularities are there.

And you and I -- and 8 million New Yorkers are the potential victims. The Bloomberg administration and the Charter Commission need to reform government so inspectors are monitored properly.

It seems so simple. Yet, in decade after decade, greed and corruption have been tolerated in some of the most critical areas of government.

This is an area cries out for reform.

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