NEW YORK (AP) — Days after a construction crane collapsed and killed seven people, authorities announced an arrest: A city inspector was charged with lying about examining the rig 11 days before it fell.
Edward Marquette wasn't blamed for the collapse itself. But as his trial on falsifying records charges wrapped up Wednesday, his lawyer depicted him as a scapegoat for an accident that shook New York, while prosecutors portrayed him as a laggard exposed by the calamity.
The 200-foot-tall crane toppled and created a block-long gash of destruction in midtown Manhattan on March 15, 2008.
Buildings Department records showed that after a March 4 complaint, Marquette had checked out the crane, finding no problems. But he didn't actually conduct an inspection.
Officials said an inspection probably wouldn't have prevented the collapse. But as Marquette was arrested, the city's then-buildings commissioner heralded the charges as rooting out misconduct.
Defense lawyer Andrew Freifeld acknowledged Marquette didn't do the March 4 inspection. He told officials otherwise to cover for a superior, Freifeld said.
After the crane collapse, "law enforcement gets busy, and they find someone to point the finger at. And, I submit to you, that's what happened here. ... It's very easy to prosecute a person for not doing their job right," Freifeld told a judge in a closing argument. Marquette declined a jury; the judge is due to issue a verdict Friday.
Prosecutors said they found Marquette had a history of lying on his route sheets, or work logs. On several days, cellphone records indicated he was at or near his apartment when his route sheet showed him doing inspections a mile or more away, according to evidence at his trial.
Freifeld said prosecutors made too much of petty discrepancies in a workplace where rules about route sheets were flexible.
"Who cares?" he asked.
"I'll tell you who cares," Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Eli Cherkasky retorted in his summation. "The taxpayers who pay him to inspect cranes and to help keep our city safe — they care."
Marquette resigned from his $52,000-a-year job shortly after his arrest.
Two months after the midtown Manhattan crane collapse, another huge crane snapped apart and fell on Manhattan's Upper East Side, killing two workers. Together, the accidents led to multiple criminal cases, a roster of new crane safety regulations and the departure of the buildings commissioner and others in the department.
Among them was Michael Carbone, the senior inspector who initially recorded sending Marquette to check on the midtown crane before it collapsed.
Marquette's lawyer said the inspector never actually was sent there. But to back up Carbone, Marquette said on his route sheet and to officials that he'd done the job, "perhaps to his everlasting regret," Freifeld said.
After the crane collapses, Carbone was suspended for "neglect of duty." City records showed he had dismissed complaints that some crane operators were working with licenses obtained fraudulently. He resigned in July 2008.
The rigger of the midtown crane and the owner of the Upper East Side crane were acquitted of manslaughter in the collapses.
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