I-Team: Restaurant Near Deadly East Village Blast Site Evicted Over Gas Tampering

A restaurant directly across the street from the site of the deadly March 26 gas explosion in the East Village was evicted Monday after its landlord discovered illegal tampering with the gas line and meters there, NBC 4 New York's I-Team has learned.

Stage Restaurant, at 128 Second Avenue, has until the end of the month to vacate the premises, a lawyer for the restaurant’s landlord said Tuesday. He said it is an odd coincidence that the restaurant is accused in a gas siphoning scheme similar to the one authorities are investigating as the cause of the explosion that killed two people and injured nearly two dozen last month.

Con Edison confirmed the restaurant's gas line had been inappropriately accessed. The restaurant's owners declined comment on the eviction, which was first reported by WNYC, an NBC 4 New York partner.

The I-Team first reported three weeks ago that authorities were looking into possible gas-line tampering as a cause of the blast -- a report Con Edison officials later confirmed. The utility said authorities were looking into the possibility that someone had dismantled or hidden a siphoning apparatus from the gas line in the Second Avenue building before Con Edison workers arrived for an inspection, then attempted to restore it in the moments before the blast rattled the neighborhood.

Nicholas Figueroa, a 23-year-old bowling alley worker on a date in the ground-floor sushi restaurant that exploded, and Moises Lucon Yac, a 26-year-old busboy at that eatery, were killed in the blast.

Joseph Goldsmith, a lawyer for the building owners at 128 Second Realty LLC, said they discovered the illegal work March 30 after a tenant in the building called the city to say they smelled gas. A city inspector came to the building and found someone in the basement working on gas lines without a permit. The inspector issued a stop work order immediately, Goldsmith and Con Ed confirmed.

When the building owners were notified, they sent their own representative to look at the basement. That’s when they found that a pipe had been installed that would direct gas around the meter, Goldsmith said. He said the pipe would have circumvented the meter, allowing the restaurant’s gas consumption to go undetected by Con Edison. The restaurant is responsible for its own gas costs so its meter is tracked separately and it pays its gas bill directly to Con Edison, Goldsmith said.

The 22-unit building’s gas has been completely turned off until further notice. A temporary hot water heater has been installed, and all tenants have been supplied with two burner electric stoves to use until further notice. Tenants who find they cannot remain in their apartments will be given a $200 a night stipend to go to a hotel, Goldsmith said.

According to an I-Team analysis of 311 complaints in the six days following the March 26 blast, New Yorkers made 33 reports of illegal or defective gas hookups -- a 370 percent increase compared with the same time period last year. In some cases, building inspectors responding to the complaints found improperly rigged gas piping. 

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