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Case against concrete test firm in N.Y. raises industry fraud concerns

By Jennifer Peltz
Associated Press / August 5, 2011

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NEW YORK - A New York concrete-testing laboratory faked results for a La Guardia Airport control tower, the new Yankee Stadium, the Lincoln Tunnel, and more than a dozen other projects around the city, creating thousands of phony reports for tests designed to make sure concrete was strong enough, prosecutors said yesterday.

American Standard Testing and Consulting Laboratories Inc. president Alan Fortich and five staffers pleaded not guilty to racketeering and other charges in the latest of a string of cases the Manhattan district attorney’s office has brought against concrete-testing labs.

Fortich and the company “vehemently deny the allegations in the indictment, and we shall fight this case,’’ said their lawyer, Richard R. Leff.

Prosecutors said they believed any safety concerns had been addressed by retesting, plus some upgrades in projects they would not specify.

But the case spotlighted the stubborn presence of concerns about fraud in an industry important to the safety of a city of skyscrapers and subways, especially since prosecutors said the firm’s 12 years of fraud continued even after another major lab was indicted and city officials tightened oversight of concrete testing in the past three years.

“The volume of fabricated tests was egregious’’ in the American Standard case, netting the company millions of dollars for results “that were no more than worthless pieces of paper,’’ District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said.

American Standard, Fortich, and the accused engineers, lab directors, and inspector “regularly skipped vital safety tests and created false reports to create the impression that the tests were performed,’’ an indictment said.

The buildings included Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the Javits Center convention venue, a Columbia University science building, the Port Authority Bus Terminal, the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, the forthcoming Second Avenue subway line and office and apartment buildings, according to the indictment.

“The projects that American Standard worked on were varied and touched every part of New York City life,’’ Assistant District Attorney Diana Florence told a judge.

After earlier cases against other labs, the stadium and certain other projects around the city were retested and found safe, city officials said.

Engineers generally design buildings to make sure they will be safe even if there are problems with some materials.

The earlier cases heightened concern about construction safety in the city, spurring new scrutiny of concrete testing and the labs licensed to do it.

Among other measures, city Department of Buildings inspectors started conducting new spot checks on concrete testing procedures.

The firm also is accused of falsifying credentials to get city licenses and to qualify for programs that give small and minority-owned businesses a leg up in bidding on big government projects. Fortich paid tens of thousands of dollars in kickbacks to another company to serve as a front for such work, prosecutors said, declining to name the other company.

The city Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which oversees the subway system, said yesterday it was reviewing its procedures for screening such firms.

The MTA has rechecked the concrete in the affected subway and other projects, and no safety or structural problems were found, said Michael Boxer, special counsel to the transit agency’s inspector general.

Under the city building code, a lab hired for a construction project is supposed to mix batches of concrete formulas and subject them to pressure until they break to make sure they can withstand the loads they need to.

Even if a given concrete recipe has been used before, differences in sand or other ingredients can affect its quality, so the tests are considered important.

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