STATEN ISLAND — The inspectors for the controversial Mount Manresa project pled guilty to lying about asbestos in buildings developers wanted to demolish and will lose their licenses, the District Attorney's Office said.
Gaspare Santoro, 76, and his son Paul Santoro, 38, pled guilty Friday to filing a false asbestos report claiming buildings on the site were free of the potentially deadly material despite having lab reports finding it on the site, District Attorney Michael McMahon said.
"By willfully falsifying asbestos reports from the Mt. Manresa site, the Santoros showed blatant disregard for public health, including construction workers and neighboring residents," McMahon said in a statement.
"While today’s outcome, which includes the forfeiture of the Santoros’ engineering and asbestos investigator licenses, will not undo the actions of the developers at Mt. Manresa, it will prevent these individuals from ever again committing these crimes."
Under the plea, the Gaspare Santoro was stripped of his engineering and asbestos inspector and asbestos investigator licenses and Paul Santoro surrendered his asbestos inspector and asbestos investigator licenses.
If either of them try to work in the fields in the future, they will face between one-and-a-third to four years in prison, McMahon said.
The Santoros were hired by Mount Manresa developers, the Savo Brothers, to certify the buildings on the site — including the former retreat house's dining hall and caretaker's residents — were free of asbestos so they could get the OK to demolish the historic buildings.
The redevelopment of the site was met with weeks of protests outside by residents and a group started to push the city to turn it into a park.
In 2014, the Santoros were arrested after investigators found they had lab reports in their office that found Chrysotile — the most commonly used form of asbestos — was present in several buildings at Mount Manresa, including the former retreat house's dining room, yet still filed paperwork for demolition that claimed the material was not present.
They later told police they didn't even test pipe insulation at Building 1A, the Caretaker's House, even though they both knew asbestos would likely be found inside, prosecutors said. Later testing by the city found the material in the pipes.
After the Department of Environmental Protection found traces of asbestos in the demolished building, work was temporarily halted on the site and the agency issued $67,000 in fines to the developers, contractors and Santoros for filing the false paperwork.
Aside from Mount Manresa, the Santoros also certified that three private homes and a commercial property at 4491 Amboy Rd. had no asbestos despite knowing they did, prosecutors said.
Gaspare Santoro has previously been in trouble with the city and was given two years probation in 2014 for "grossly negligent failure to comply with the substantial provision of local laws governing the practice of architecture" on a different project, the Staten Island Advance reported.
The Mount Manresa project has been strongly opposed by residents and elected officials since the Savo Brothers bought the former Jesuit retreat house to turn into townhouses. Buildings and 400-year-old trees have been demolished at the site but no homes have been erected.
Borough President James Oddo — who named surrounding streets after synonyms for greed and avarice in a dig at the father-son team — started a last ditch effort last year to halt the controversial development by burying it in red tape.
The Department of Transportation recently backed Oddo's move to put the roads on the official City Map, which could force the project to go through the city's long Uniform Land Use Review Procedure for approvals.