Concrete lab denies faking NYC test results

A concrete-testing laboratory faked results for a LaGuardia

Airport control tower, the new Yankee Stadium, the Lincoln Tunnel

and more than a dozen other projects around the city, creating

thousands of phony reports for tests designed to make sure concrete

was strong enough, prosecutors said Thursday.

American Standard Testing and Consulting Laboratories Inc.,

President Alan Fortich and five staffers pleaded not guilty to

racketeering and other charges in the latest of a string of

prosecutions of concrete-testing labs.

Fortich and the company ”vehemently deny the allegations in the

indictment, and we shall fight this case,” said their lawyer,

Richard R. Leff.

Prosecutors said they believed any safety concerns had been

addressed by retesting, plus some upgrades in projects they

wouldn’t specify.

But the case spotlighted the stubborn presence of concerns about

fraud in an industry important to the safety of a city of

skyscrapers and subways, especially since prosecutors said ASTC’s

12 years of fraud continued even after another major lab was

indicted and city officials tightened oversight of concrete testing

in the last three years.

”The volume of fabricated tests was egregious” in the ASTC

case, netting the company millions of dollars for results ”that

were no more than worthless pieces of paper,” Manhattan District

Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said.

New Hyde Park, N.Y.-based ASTC, Fortich and the accused

engineers, lab directors and inspector ”regularly skipped vital

safety tests and created false reports to create the impression

that the tests were performed,” an indictment said.

The buildings included Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center,

the Javits Center convention venue, a Columbia University science

building, the Port Authority Bus Terminal, the Intrepid Sea, Air

& Space Museum, the forthcoming Second Avenue subway line and

office and apartment buildings, according to the indictment.

”The projects that American Standard worked on were varied and

touched every part of New York City life,” assistant district

attorney Diana Florence told a judge.

The city Buildings Department said Thursday there was no

evidence of safety concerns in seven named properties under its

jurisdiction. They include the stadium; officials have said it

already was retested because of an earlier case against another

concrete lab.

The city Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which oversees

the subway system, has rechecked the concrete in its affected

projects, and no safety or structural problems were found, said

Michael Boxer, special counsel to the transit agency’s inspector

general.

Engineers generally design buildings to make sure they will be

safe even if there are problems with some materials.

ASTC also is accused of falsifying credentials to get city

licenses and to qualify for programs that give small and

minority-owned businesses a leg up in bidding on big government

projects. Fortich paid tens of thousands of dollars in kickbacks to

another company to serve as a front for such work, prosecutors

said, declining to name the other company.

The MTA said Thursday it was reviewing its procedures for

screening such firms.

The earlier cases heightened concern about construction safety

in the city, spurring new scrutiny of concrete testing and the labs

licensed to do it. Among other measures, city Department of

Buildings inspectors started conducting new spot checks on concrete

testing procedures.

They have done 375 audits of testing work at construction sites

and laboratories since 2010, prompting more than 550 violation

notices for issues such as improper materials storage and

equipment, the Buildings Department said Thursday. Staffers also

independently test concrete to ensure labs are doing their work

properly.

A spot check on ASTC figures in the case, prosecutors said,

declining to be more specific. The Buildings Department said it

denied ASTC’s bid to renew its city license in 2009.

Many builders in New York City depend on independent

laboratories to test the concrete that forms skyscrapers, subway

tunnels and other key pieces of its infrastructure.

Under the city building code, a lab hired for a construction

project is supposed to mix up batches of concrete formulas, or mix

designs, and subject them to pressure until they break to make sure

they can withstand the loads they need to.

ASTC provided bogus results not only for nearly 3,000 mix design

tests but also for tests of actual concrete samples from

construction sites, the prosecutors said.

Suspicious similarities in various ASTC test results raised red

flags for investigators, city Department of Investigation

Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn said.

Leff, the defense attorney, said the company’s tests were done

properly and the allegations were ”more interpretive than anything

else.”

Fortich, 44, declined to comment after being released on

$250,000 bond. His co-defendants were released without bail.

If convicted, the men each could face up to 25 years in

prison.

The case grew out of an investigation into Testwell Laboratories

Inc. Indeed, some site owners turned to ASTC after Testwell was

indicted in 2008, prosecutors said.

Testwell’s president and a vice president were convicted in

February 2010 of faking concrete and steel strength test results

for nearly 120 projects in and around the city, including ground

zero’s centerpiece skyscraper and the new Yankee Stadium. The

president, V. Reddy Kancharla, was sentenced to up to 21 years in

prison.

The company and executives said they didn’t mean to cheat

anyone.

In April 2010, Stallone Testing Laboratories Inc. and lab

director William Bayer pleaded guilty to falsifying mix design

results for the World Trade Center memorial, the LaGuardia Airport

control tower and dozens of other buildings.

Bayer’s case is expected to be closed without jail time or

probation if he stays out of trouble for three years.

About 30 labs are licensed to test concrete in the city, the

Buildings Department said.

Jennifer Peltz can be reached at

http://twitter.com/jennpeltz