MANHATTAN SUPREME COURT — Four people were indicted Thursday for manslaughter and other charges in connection with the East Village gas explosion that killed two people, injured 22 others and leveled three East Village buildings, prosecutors said.
Maria Hrynenko, 56, who owns the building where the blast happened, her son Michael Hrynenko, 30, contractor Dilber Kukic, 40, and plumber Anthanasios "Jerry" Ioannidis, 59, were also charged with criminally negligent homicide, assault in the second degree and offering a phony plumbing license, according to the Manhattan District Attorney's office.
A fifth man, Andrew Trombettas, 57, was charged with allowed his master plumbing license to be used by Ioannidis to perform work, prosecutors said.
"The seven-alarm fire that killed two people and engulfed three buildings on March 2015 was caused by a foreseeable, preventable and completely avoidable gas explosion," Manhattan D.A. Cyrus Vance said during a press conference announcing the indictments.
The lawyer for Kukic, who pleaded guilty in Oct. 2015 to attempting to bribe a city HPD employee, said his client would contest the charges.
"We intend to vigorously fight the charges," lawyer Mark Bederow said. "People should keep an open mind. Because there was a tragedy, doesn't mean there was a crime."
DNAinfo New York first reported that on March 26, 2015 that Kukic, whose construction firm did work on the property at 121 Second Ave. prior to the blast, was in the building with the owner's son, Michael trying to find the source of a gas odor in the basement when the room blew up, throwing both men to the floor.
On the day of the explosion, Kukic gave a detailed account of how he narrowly avoided death in the blast.
"As soon as we opened the basement door, there was an explosion, a fire," Kukic said in an exclusive phone interview with DNAinfo. "It was full of smoke. The debris was on top of me."
The Manhattan District Attorney's office maintains that Kukic and Hrynenko fled the building before it blew up without warning any of the occupants of the impending danger.
(Photo Credit: DNAinfo/Ben Fractenberg)
Investigators believe that the explosion was caused by an improper hookup in the building's gas line. The landlady hired Kukic to renovate the building while she rented the property's four apartments for $6,000 per month, according to prosecutors.
During construction, Kukic paid Ioannidis to rig rubber hoses to the gas feed so that the Hrynenkos could continue to collect rent while doing renovations, the DA said.
Con Edison inspectors caught the two with the illegal hookup, cut off the gas and ordered them to fix the plumbing, according to the indictment.
Instead, Kukic and Ioannidis, with the Hrynenkos' permission, installed a similar illegal hookup, but this time hid it behind a locked closet in the building's basement.
Michael Hrynenko went so far as to tell tenants to lie to Con Edison inspectors if asked about gas service, investigators said.
"In order to avoid tipping off Con Ed to the gas, prior to the inspection, Kukic and [Michael] Hrynenko shut off the illegal gas supply from 119, the adjacent building, and Kukic then ran upstairs to instruct the tenants in substance 'If Con Ed comes...tell them you've never had any gas," Vance said.
On the day of the explosion, Con Edison workers went to the property to inspect a new gas meter and found it had been installed in the wrong location.
After they left, investigators believe work Hrynenko and Kukic turned back on the illegal set up, causing gas to leak.
About an hour later, Kukic and Hryenko went to check on the smell, reported by a restaurant employee, and that's when the building went up in flames.
“Development, construction, and renovation is happening across the city at breakneck speed. In this market, the temptation for property owners, contractors, and managers to take dangerous—and, in some instances, deadly — shortcuts has never been greater," DA Vance said.
All of defendant, except Trombettas, were held on a $1 million bail. Trombettas was held on a $100,000.
Ioannidis' lawyer, Roger Blank, said the arrests were a ploy to garner publicity for investigators, referring to them as a "dog and pony show".
"Nobody should pre-judge this case," Blank said after the arraignment.
Additional reporting by Ben Fractenberg and Sybile Penhirin