COOK COUNTY CRIMINAL COURT — One of the men accused of flooding the Trump Tower's elevator shafts and lobby after being cut off at the building's bar pleaded guilty to criminal damage to property Wednesday shortly after the trial began.
But his two co-defendants, who took the trial to completion, were acquitted just hours later.
Benjamin Nitch, 26, pleaded guilty after he met with Judge Thaddeus L. WIlson after opening arguments were delivered in the case at the Cook County Criminal Courthouse.
The trial then continued, and Judge Wilson ruled Carl Koenemann, 26, and Daniel T. Maradei, 25, were not guilty in the February 2014 incident. Wilson said that "there is no direct evidence that these two defendants did anything illegal in the staircase."
Nitch was sentenced to two years probation and 480 hours of community service — and he was barred from going back to Trump Tower.
Prosecutors said the men were denied service at Trump Tower's fancy 16th-floor bar shortly after 6 p.m. on Feb. 15 because they appeared severely intoxicated.
Authorities accused the men of turning on a water valve in the high-rise's stairwell and flooding two elevator shafts, causing more than $700,000 in damage.
Koenemann later told police the group started drinking at noon that day at Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery, 1 W. Grand Ave., according to Chicago Police Detective James Rider, who testified Wednesday.
After drinking beer for four hours, the trio headed to another local bar, where they switched to hard liquor, Rider said.
In her testimony Wednesday, a Trump Tower hostess recalled seeing the men walk into the building's 16th-floor bar around 6 p.m. They sat on stools at the bar "for no more than 10 minutes or so," she said, and played loud music on a cell phone speaker.
When the bartender cut off the men after one round of drinks, they headed down a hallway that led to a staircase, restroom and elevator bank, the hostess said.
She noted that one of the men made a sexual comment to her and a female colleague as he left.
Koenemann told police the men headed down a Trump stairwell and stopped at the fifth floor, where Nitch might have opened a water valve, Rider said. Koenemann allegedly told cops he didn't see Nitch do anything, but noticed water flowing from the valve.
When police picked up Maradei, he denied knowing anything, but later told a similar story, Rider added.
Prosecutors said the valve was meant for fire protection and pumped out 250 gallons of water a minute. It damaged two elevator shafts, stairwells and flooring.
E. J. Zitkos, director of security at Trump Tower, said the water caused sparks, smoke and several small fires when it hit the elevators' electrical panels. It also caused extensive damage to the building's "porous Italian marble" floor, he said.
Surveillance video played in court Wednesday showed the accused men in an elevator, stairwell and leaving the building. The pipe incident was never caught on tape.
Nitch allegedly told police last year he fell into the valve because he was drunk and may have yanked it once in anger. But a fire official told prosecutors it would take 3-5 turns while exerting force to open the valve, an assistant state's attorney said Wednesday.
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