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Construction Company Guilty of Manslaughter in Death of Worker

By Danielle Tcholakian | June 10, 2016 2:39pm | Updated on June 13, 2016 8:50am
 The construction site at 9-19 Ninth Avenue on April 6, 2015, the day 22-year-old construction worker Carlos Moncayo was crushed to death.
The construction site at 9-19 Ninth Avenue on April 6, 2015, the day 22-year-old construction worker Carlos Moncayo was crushed to death.
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Manhattan District Attorney's Office

CIVIC CENTER — A general contractor company was found responsible for the death of a worker in what activists say is an unprecedented court ruling.

New York Supreme Court Judge A. Kirke Bartley, Jr. found Harco Construction guilty on Friday of manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and reckless endangerment in the April 6, 2015, death of Carlos Moncayo.

Moncayo was crushed in an excavation pit at 9-19 Ninth Ave. just four days shy of his 23rd birthday.

The site, formerly the home of neighborhood staple Pastis, is being developed by Aurora Capital Associates into a Restoration Hardware flagship store.

A vice president at Aurora did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Moncayo's mother, sister and brother-in-law, who were in the courtroom throughout most of the trial, broke down crying Friday after Bartley read his verdict.

After court was adjourned, Diana Florence, the Manhattan District Attorney prosecutor in charge of the case, got up, sat down in the gallery beside them and hugged them.

Carlos Moncayo's mother (left), sister (center) and brother-in-law (right) outside court after the verdict was read. Credit: DNAinfo/Danielle Tcholakian

Outside court, Moncayo's sister Alinda Moncayo said in Spanish that she hoped the verdict would result in safer conditions for all workers regardless of immigration status. (Carlos lived with his sister and her young son before his death, and was known as a doting uncle.)

Moncayo was undocumented, as were other workers at the site. At the start of the trial, Florence and Harco's defense attorneys battled over whether immigration status could or should be used against witnesses in the case. Bartley ultimately told them he did not see being in the U.S. illegally as "a bad act."

Moncayo's mother, Blanca Garcia, expressed gratitude to Florence and her team in Spanish, and broke down crying again as she tried to explain how hearing the verdict just made her sad again.

As she sobbed, a workers' rights advocate gave her a hard hat and told her in Spanish that her son made history and would always be remembered in the fight for workers' rights.

Harco's superintendent at the site, Alfonso Prestia, as well as the subcontractor in charge of excavation, Sky Materials and its foreman Wilmer Cueva, are still awaiting trial.

Nadia Marin-Molina of the New York Committee for Occupational Heath and Safety said she believed Prestia, Sky and Cueva were even more likely to be found guilty.

"My own thought is this was the hardest one — the others are even more clearly guilty," she said. "Most of the time the general contractors wash their hands of responsibility [when a worker dies at their site]. They tend to throw the blame at the subcontractor."

Both she and Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York union, which represents over 100,000 construction workers, said this was the first time a general contractor has ever been found guilty in the death of a worker.

The verdict "is unprecedented and sends a clear message that irresponsible contractors will be held accountable for a worker's death," LaBarbera said. "For far too long criminally negligent and reckless contractors have been merely slapped on the wrist with no real consequences. Today’s decision changes all of that. Contractors are now on notice that they can no longer put profits ahead of the safety of workers and that they will be held liable for their actions."

Harco is scheduled to be sentenced on July 13.