Sunday, December 09, 2007
Buildings chief hid architect's mistakes
BY BRIAN KATESDAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Sunday, December 9th 2007, 4:00 AM
The top official responsible for enforcing building standards in the city signed secrecy agreements to hide a series of blunders that led to death and building evacuations.
Patricia Lancaster, the $162,800-a-year buildings commissioner, hid the mistakes made by architect Robert Scarano.
Lancaster - also an architect - signed an unusual stipulation promising not to report the alleged misdeeds of Scarano to "any regulatory agency," including one that could revoke his license.
The charges involve 32 properties, mostly in Brooklyn, and include alleged carelessness that resulted in the death of a construction worker and a screwup that forced a Brooklyn family to evacuate its unsafe home.
Lancaster hid a charge that Scarano signed off on unsafe conditions at a Brooklyn site where construction worker Anthony Duncan Sr. was crushed to death in a March 2006 building collapse.
The victim's family is outraged about Lancaster's actions.
"If they are not going to pursue Scarano to the fullest extent, then who are they going to pursue?" asked Duncan's son, Anthony Jr. "It's like they're laughing in my face ... Scarano is still working, but my father is dead."
The so-called no-referral practice hid problems in the self-certification program, a flawed Buildings Department honor code that allowed architects and engineers to sign off on their own work - without independent review.
Numerous city homeowners have suffered the consequences of this bizarre practice via code violations that undermined building walls and foundations and even caused building collapses.
The Scarano stipulation - crafted as the City Department of Investigation was looking into the no-referral practice - was signed as politicians and activists demanded he be barred from further architectural work.
In her stipulation with Scarano, Lancaster promised not to give regulators "any information or documents that form the basis for the [department's] assertions and allegations."
She even vowed not to reveal the charges to the press "except to say that the matter has been resolved satisfactorily."
In exchange, Scarano agreed to remove himself from the self-certification program. He admitted no guilt and suffered no penalty.
The practice of concealing professionals' misdeeds from state regulators "would not be allowed today," mayoral spokesman John Gallagher said.
Gallagher said the practice was banned sometime "in the summer of 2006" to "foster closer ties between the city and the [state] Office of Professional Discipline to better regulate licensed architects and engineers."
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