Firm Accused of Faking Tests Linked to Deadly Crane Collapse

The Testwell Company had helped inspect this crane three months before it broke apart

A private inspection firm indicted Thursday for allegedly faking tests at some of the city's biggest construction projects is also linked to a crane that collapsed, killing two construction workers on the Upper East Side, News 4 New York has learned.

The Testwell Company had helped inspect this crane three months before it broke apart and tumbled last May 31st, according to documents from a court file, killing construction workers Ramadan Kurtaj, 27 and Daniel Leo,30.

"Testwell had some role," said Susan Karten, attorney for the Kurtaj family. "They were doing certain metal tests to see if the crane met certain standards ... The whole thing stinks."

Investigators have blamed the fatal collapse at East 91st Street and First Avenue on a faulty welding repair job that was supposed to fix a prior crack in the crane's turntable.

Testwell had run a chemical analysis on a steel part of the crane, according to a February 2008 document.  However their attorney, Scott Stone, said Testwell did not address the welding job on a crack that had been discovered a year before the collapse.

Testwell's work on the crane is not part of the case Manhattan prosecutors brought against the firm for allegedly falsifying results and records on concrete tests at massive construction projects like the Freedom Tower at Ground Zero, the new Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, John Jay College, Jet Blue's Terminal at JFK and numerous apartment buildings, schools and hospitals.  Prosecutors also accused the firm of using untrained workers. Testwell denies any wrongdoing in its inspection process.

"Today's indictment included 102 projects that used Testwell Services," said Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau.
There have been no injuries or safety concerns relating to Testwell's alleged doctoring of concrete tests, officials said, adding that a review of past work is underway.

"This case began with one of our Port Authority engineers ... who had concern about testing and the strength of concrete," said Robert Van Etten, the Port Authority Inspector General.    He added that while records were falsified, at Ground Zero, "there was never any particular safety issue as per this particular concrete."

Also under investigation is the veracity of Testwell's examination of the crane part, according to a law enforcement source.

Testwell was involved in "blatant fraud," said the city's Department of Investigation Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn.

Attorney Karten says she plans to file a lawsuit against Testwell, the city and the various contractors and subcontractors involved with the crane's operation.

A review of court documents also uncovered a city buildings department official with grave concerns over crane safety the summer before the May 31st collapse as well as another 2008 crane accident at 51st Street and Second Avenue that killed seven people on March 15th, 2008.

"So in a short period of time, New York city has experienced two tower cranes that had the potential for catastrophic failure. The city needs to address this and right now we are trying to establish the scope of the issue," wrote Bethany Klein, then executive director of cranes and derricks for the city's building department, in August 2007.

"There are a lot of questions that need to be answered," said Xhedahire Sinanaj, Kurtaj's cousin.

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