Friday, October 11, 2013

Are the Feds Investigating L&I?

With the tragic collapse of 22nd and Market four months behind us and every civil lawyer in town pointing grieving families at the biggest pots of dough, nothing has gotten any simpler.

In the real world this would be complicated. But this is Philadelphia where complicated is the status quo.

City Hall has ruthlessly kept its own Licensing and Inspection department out of the equation despite the fact that the office was the sole governing body in charge of granting this permit and despite the fact that one of its own committed suicide in the days following the collapse.

In the wake of the chaos, those in the city scrambled to find a warm body to pin this on. They struck gold with crane operator, Sean Benschop, high on pot and prescription pills at the time of the collapse. Our own mayor's office went as far as to pronounce Benschop's guilt before a trial date had even been set, before any evidence had been presented.

It certainly paints a picture of a town when its top leader is the first to cast the stone of mob justice.

While the city's managed to keep its nose clean despite many in the media calling for L&I's head, the latest complications may be aimed at the city's mismanagement.

OSHA and the Federal Department Labor have subpoenaed documents from the site's architect, Plato Marinakos. Marinakos has officially pleaded the Fifth Amendment, which always sounds shady.

While everything that surrounds this project and investigation just reeks of shade, with the mayor's office and City Hall throwing everyone under the bus, can you really blame Marinakos for resisting the urge to incriminate himself on behalf of the city's mismanagement?

Think of it like this. Any documents Marinakos employed in the demolition site would have been approved by L&I before demolition began, L&I would have their own copies, copies that should have been reviewed both times a 311 call reported a violation.

Marinakos' has reason to be skeptical of any investigation in which the city plays a role, a city in bed with L&I. In this instance his Fifth Amendment right may have been executed to consult with lawyers before Nutter puts him on the chopping block in the middle of City Hall.

The city doesn't want to be involved. In fact, it can't afford to be involved.

If L&I finds itself as part of prosecutors' investigations, development in Philadelphia ceases. L&I grants every license and permit for demolition and construction in the city. If that department were to be investigated by any agency, all projects would come to a grinding halt until the investigation ends.

What's worse, if the investigation were to find any misdeeds on behalf of L&I at this or any other project - and if their reputation is any indicator, it likely would - it begs to question when every other project in the city would have the green light to resume.

Would every project approved by L&I need to be re-evaluated by an independent agency? Would previous projects need to be investigated? How long would that take?

It would be a nightmare for the city. Considering this potential scenario, City Hall's ruthless efforts to keep L&I out of the discussion at all costs starts to make sense, however unethical.

The request for Marinakos' documents wasn't made on behalf of the city, it was requested by Federal investigators. If the Feds are sniffing around, this could mean more trouble for the city than it means for Marinakos, Benschop, or any private defendant named in this whole tragedy.

OSHA and the Department of Labor know that the documents used in the demolition of 22nd and Market should be on file with L&I. In the wake of Marinakos' Fifth Amendment claim, couldn't they just pull the same files from the city?

Well, they likely already have, or have already discovered that L&I didn't file anything. If they're going straight to Marinakos for documents, they're not going after Marinakos. They're trying to find out who screwed up at L&I.

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