Former Philadelphia Licenses and Inspections Commissioner, Bennett Levin, told city leaders that someone needs to be bold enough to put a stop to a corrupt system. Levin spoke for more than an hour at an investigative hearing into the deadly Center City building collapse in June.
“We got six dead people, a lady with no legs and an inspecto who put a gun to his head,” Levin said. He described a flawed system that allowed substandard work that in a best-case scenario put people’s lives at risk, and in a worst-case scenario led to fatal accidents like the Pier 34 collapse that killed three women and the Meridian fire that killed three Philadelphia firefighters.
“There are a lot of things the council ought to know. I can tell you about the FBI, I can tell you about false reports going to the FBI, I can tell you a lot of stories, but until you free the department from the political chicanery, there’s gonna be a problem,” Levin said. “You got these real problems, but someone in the city has to finally stand up and say, ‘Enough!'”
Philadelphia construction accident attorney Robert Mongeluzzi is expected to call for an end to the expediter practice in the city’s demolition permitting process, arguing that the practice is unfair, allows patronage and influence and sets up a system that can potentially breed corruption.
Mongeluzzi, who represents a majority of victims in June’s deadly building collapse in Center City, was invited to speak at the fourth of five public hearings by an investigative committee made up of City Council members.
Six people were killed when a four-story building that was under demolition at 2138 Market Street, collapsed onto a Salvation Army Thrift Store next door.
Philadelphia’s permitting process allows people to hire an “expediter” to essentially short-cut the process and that common practice was followed by the owner of the building that collapsed.
STB Investments paid an expediter, local architect Plato Marinakos, to help obtain a permit for demolition. Marinakos had nothing to do with the actual demolition, however, according to an interview he did with NewsWorks.org. Another contractor, Griffin Campell, was hired for the demolition. Campbell then hired a backhoe operator, Sean Benschop, to work on the project.
Mongeluzzi believes the demolition crew did not properly secure the site, according to federal guidelines. He says the expediter system is unfair because it sets up two separate systems, one for the connected and one for everyone else. He says the system also allows for unsafe contractors to hide behind the qualifications of an expediter.
Seventeen people are scheduled to speak or answer questions during today’s hearing. Among them are two former Commissioners of Licenses and Inspections, Fran Burns, who held the position from the summer of 2008 through June of last year and former Commissioner Bennett Levin ran the department in the early 90s under Mayor Ed Rendell.
“I said to myself, ‘Somebody has to talk for these dead people,'” Levin told NBC10 in an exclusive interview the day before the hearing.
Levin said he plans to tell council that L&I should have public safety as its main priority. Right now, the department reports to the Deputy Mayor of Economic Development.
“When you report to the guy that’s in charge of economic development rather than the guy that’s in charge of public safety, you can see that it’s not a priority,” Levin said.
When he was Commissioner of L&I, there was one thing that kept him up at night.
“I worried about the fact that somebody was going to get killed on my watch,” Levine said.
The city’s top prosecutor has convened a grand jury to investigate whether anyone else should face criminal charges.