Official: Contractors not on books
PHILADELPHIA — The two demolition contractors involved in a fatal building collapse did not have active city wage tax accounts, and appeared to be working off the books, a councilman said Wednesday.
Councilman James Kenney’s remarks came at a public hearing on the June 5 collapse, which killed six people inside an adjacent thrift store.
Kenney complained that city records about demolition contractor Griffin Campbell and subcontractor Sean Benschop have been hard to obtain due to a criminal grand jury investigation.
“I don’t want to be playing super sleuth,” Kenney said. “I’d rather just get what we’re asking for.”
He also faulted building owner Richard Basciano for allegedly picking the cheapest demolition bid for the project. He said the bids ranged from $500,000 to Campbell’s winning bid of $130,000, although Campbell’s permit listed the job cost at just $10,000.
Benschop has been charged with involuntary manslaughter in the six deaths. Authorities said he was impaired by marijuana and a painkiller when he operated an excavator at the site that day. He also had his right hand in a cast.
His lawyer has said he was following orders from Campbell, who was onsite when a four-story brick wall collapsed onto the thrift story, burying at least 19 people in rubble.
Basciano’s lawyer has declined to comment on the case. Lawyers for Campbell and Benschop did not immediately return messages Wednesday.
The City Council hearing was the second of four designed to address the city’s oversight of construction and demolition practices.
A union official testified that the city’s lax monitoring should keep people awake at night.
“The sobering thing is ... we don’t have any protocols for demolition,” said Pat Gillespie, business manager of the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council.
“No one enforces anything.”
Council member Bobby Henon said anyone with $200, a federal tax ID number and insurance can get a construction permit in the city. And those permits sometimes go to general contractors who don’t end up at the job site, witnesses said.
Union officials testified that their members must work as apprentices for several years and are subject to regular drug tests.
Benschop, a 42-year-old native of Guyana, is being held on $1.6 million bail, amid concerns about his immigration status, prior contacts with police and other issues that prosecutors say make him a potential flight risk.