Daily News e-Edition
Evening e-Edition
Sign up for email newsletters

Sign up for email newsletters
Daily News e-Edition
Evening e-Edition
Nearly three years after a 5-year-old died trying to escape a stalled housing project elevator, whistleblowing city inspectors say they’re being told to fake reports and take safety shortcuts.
The city Housing Authority vowed to get on top of elevator safety after Jacob Neuman fell 10 stories to his death in August 2008 trying to squeeze out of a stuck lift at a Brooklyn project.
Years later, six inspectors have come forward to say the system remains unsafe because bosses pressure them to close inspections without doing a thorough job.
They say supervisors are obsessed with meeting a daily quota of six inspections a man, often ordering them to move to the next job without shutting dangerous elevators and waiting for a mechanic, as NYCHA rules dictate.
One veteran inspector who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared retaliation said he was under constant pressure not to pull the plug on unsafe elevators.
“I told them somebody’s wife could be riding on that elevator, somebody’s kid,” he said. “They didn’t want to hear it.”
Inspector John DeMicco, a 26-year NYCHA veteran, said he was repeatedly told not to enter deficiencies into a handheld computer that generates work orders – instructions he refused to follow.
“If alarms don’t work or if the zone locks don’t work, they say, ‘Let it go,’” he testified in the recent disciplinary trial of inspector Anthony DePompeis.
At that hearing, DePompeis testified, “Whenever I seen motor room doors unsecured, I was asked to move on. Whenever I seen stop switches broken, I was asked to move on. Whenever I seen zone locks broken, I was asked to move on.”
Another witness at the hearing, Inspector Charles Bailey, told of a lack of manpower and supervisors’ adherence to quotas: “There was a practice where we just kept moving on.”
“If the inspectors’ supervisor gave these kind of orders, he should be fired,” said Raymond Ballard, a Brooklyn tenant rep. “I am concerned about the potential for loss of life.”
DePompeis, a 15-year NYCHA vet, was charged with failing to file inspection reports and threatening to kill his boss in an argument. He denies wrongdoing and says the fight was over his refusal to fudge reports.
The safety issues have consequences. Officials say a malfunctioning zone lock, which prevents cab doors from opening in stalled elevators, triggered Jacob’s death.
That tragedy prompted a rash of probes, including one by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer that found a “culture of neglect” in NYCHA elevator inspection and maintenance.
After the boy’s death, NYCHA vowed to spend $107 million to replace 350 broken elevators and $5 million more for new inspectors and computerized tracking.
NYCHA says since then it’s awarded $108 million in contacts to modernize 297 elevators, of which 176 are updated. A 5-year plan calls for spending $216 million to modernize 609 more elevators.
The number of inspectors responsible for 3,326 elevators has remained unchanged since the boy’s death – 78. There are 74 more maintenance positions, though, and NYCHA has begun hiring private companies to monitor some inspections.
NYCHA requires inspectors to record their findings in a logbook, on a printed checklist and in a handheld computer that generates a work order. The violations don’t always appear on all three.
DePompeis’ May to October 2010 inspection records show many of his checklists had twice the number of deficiencies the computer spit out on work orders, with some missing violations potentially life-threatening.
Last August, DePompeis reported unsatisfactory emergency brakes on an elevator at Brooklyn’s Pink Houses. That problem didn’t show up on the work order.
In October, he gave an elevator at Wagner Houses in East Harlem three unsatisfactory ratings. Two — problems with a hoist machine and cab doors — didn’t appear on the work orders.
The NYCHA supervisor he fought with, Kenneth Buny, could not explain the descrepancies, but testified he never asked an inspector to falsify a report.
But another veteran told The News that he was frequently pressured to overlook serious problems.
“Let’s say I went to a building and found eight violations. They would ask me not to put them all down,” he said on the condition he not be named. “Without a doubt, this was because they needed to make the quota.”
Then there are inspection reports that simply disappeared – a bungle that created repair delays of weeks and sometimes months.
Michael Trizulino, a 14-year NYCHA vet, said he spent two days last year transcribing violations from checklists into the computer because the data had been lost. Some violations, uncorrected because work orders had not been generated, dated back to 2009, he said.
NYCHA spokeswoman Shiela Stainback declined comment.
Copyright © 2024 New York Daily News