Judge Sentences Man to Prison for Scaffolding Deaths

New York State Supreme Court Justice Rena Uviller sentenced Philip Minucci to prison for 3 1/2 to 10 1/2 years for his role in a scaffolding collapse in Manhattan that killed five immigrant workers.

Uviller said the collapse of this scaffold "was not a tragic accident." It was, she said, "a tragic certainty."

Minucci, owner of Tri-State Scaffolding & Equipment Supplies, designed and built the 160-foot high scaffold, ignoring city building codes requiring any scaffolding over 75 feet high to be designed and built by licensed architects and engineers.

The scaffolding collapsed on Oct. 24, 2001, killing Manuel Barrariso, 40; Ivan Pillacela, 30; Efrain Gonzalez, 26; Donato Conde, 19; and Cesar F. Tenesaca, 25. Ten other workers were injured, four of them seriously.

Minucci was charged with five counts of manslaughter in the second degree and four counts of assault in the second degree. He pled guilty to second-degree manslaughter rather than face a jury.

"This sentence will, I trust, serve as a warning to others who, in pursuit of their own economic interests, care to be cavalier about the lives of others," said Uviller. Many of the 20 masonry workers on the jobsite were illegal immigrants who were paid $7 per hour.

In a statement at his sentencing, Minucci apologized to the families of the victims.

Charges in the case were not brought by the U.S. Justice Department at the recommedation of OSHA, Rather, they were brought by Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau, which, in part, led Uviller to call the federal government "astonishingly ineffectual" in protecting workers. In her sentencing, Uviller noted the OSHA penalties amounted to a $10,000 fine and a maximum 6-month prison sentence for an initial conviction.

In April 2002, OSHA issued citations against Tri-State and the two other contractors at the site - Nesa Inc., the general contractor and New Millennium Restoration and Contracting Corp. - for improperly erected scaffolding and failure to train workers on the hazards of working with scaffolding The citations against Tri-State Scaffolding were two willful and four serious violations, with a penalty of $146,600, for erection of a scaffold that violated scaffold safety rules; for erecting a scaffold not designed by a professional engineer; and other violations of scaffolding and worker protection rules.

At the time, OSHA Administrator John Henshaw said, "Employers should take this enforcement action as a clear indication that OSHA remains committed to vigorous enforcement of construction safety standards. The tragic deaths of these workers show us that some workplaces still remain are dangerous and unsafe, including places where Hispanic and other immigrant workers are employed. We are committed to assuring that all workers are provided safety and health protections."

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