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Sandro Rosell
FC Barcelona President
Friday, June 23, 2017

On Wednesday, May 10, the owner of a Brooklyn construction company was indicted on manslaughter charges for the death of an 18-year-old worker.

The Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office announced on Wednesday that 47-year-old Michael Weiss of Williamsburg, and his company RSBY NY Builders, are facing charges of second-degree manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide in addition to several other charges. At a construction site in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Weiss is accused of disregarding several obvious safety issues, which allegedly resulted in the September 2015 death of Fernando Vanegaz.

The Real Deal reports, “According to authorities, Weiss hired seven workers with little or no training to demolish a one-story fruit store at 656 Myrtle Avenue to make way for a planned five-story mixed-use building. During excavation work around an existing cellar, several workers warned Weiss that the site wasn’t safe because adjacent walls were unstable. Weiss allegedly ignored these warnings and refused to provide material to support the walls. On Sept. 3, 2015, an adjacent wall collapsed on three workers, killing Vanegaz and severely injuring two others. Weiss’ LinkedIn indicates that he last worked for Royal Builders, but a representative for the company indicated that he is no longer employed there. An attorney for Weiss did not immediately return a call seeking comment.”

In a statement, Acting District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said, “Fernando Vanegaz should be alive today. Construction site deaths such as his are becoming all too common as builders ignore safety protocols and hire untrained workers to maximize profits.”

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined Weiss $77,000 after the building collapsed, according to records. 

Weiss is also accused of allegedly paying another unnamed construction company $10,000 to apply for permits with the Department of Buildings on his behalf, because he lacked the proper licenses that are needed for concrete and demolition work. The name of the general contractor who is the alleged co-conspirator would not be confirmed by the Brooklyn DA’s office.

Weiss’ bail was set at $100,000 cash or a $250,000 bond or $100,000 cash. August 9 is his next scheduled court appearance, and he is facing up to 15 years in prison. 

According to TRD, “It’s fairly rare for a construction company to be convicted of manslaughter in New York City. In June, a judge found Harco Construction guilty of manslaughter in the death of a worker at the Restoration Hardware site. The conviction was described as Manhattan’s first against a construction company. Authorities have been ramping up safety enforcement and mulling new legislation as reports of construction accidents in the city continue to pile up.”

The city released a report in September that showed in fiscal year 2016 there were 500 construction-related accidents, compared to 314 in 2015, which is a 59 percent increase. If compared to 2012, the increases is more than 200 percent.

By Charles Bernstein