Bronx Company Indicted After Near Death Of Employee

Attorney General Spitzer, New York City Police Department Commissioner Ray Kelly and State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Erin Crotty today announced the indictment of a Bronx company for reckless endangerment and environmental crimes following an incident in which an employee nearly died from exposure to toxic vapors.

The charges stem from an incident that occurred on April 17 when a worker was rescued by FDNY firefighter Dan Foley from an underground tank at the Bronx Auto Venture Corporation. It is alleged that company officials ordered the worker into the tank to perform maintenance without any protective equipment. The tank contained thousands of gallons of gasoline and other waste fluids from motor vehicles.

A search warrant executed at the facility a several weeks later revealed that the company was not following proper containment and disposal procedures for hazardous substances. Instead, the company allowed vehicle fluids to spill into open pits which were connected by pipes subsurface to the underground tank.
"Businesses owners who put profit before the safety of their workers and violate environmental laws will be held accountable," Spitzer said. "My office is working with DEC and NYPD to ensure that such violations are prosecuted aggressively."

New York City Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said: "The suspects in this case put profit before people, and came precariously close to costing one individual his life. I want to thank the Attorney General's Office, the DEC and the members of the Police Department who worked together to ensure justice was served."

DEC Commissioner Crotty said, "Today's indictment sends the message that risking the health and safety of individuals is not tolerated in New York State. DEC is fortunate to work with the Attorney General's Office and NYPD. I want to thank DEC's Technical Services section and Environmental Conservation Officers for their efforts in this multi-agency investigation, which will ensure that the environment and public health are better protected."
The indictment alleges that in April of 2004, Bronx Auto, its owner, John Chiapperino, 42, of Syosset, and its manager, Sinforiano Calix, 38, of the Bronx, instructed a worker to enter the underground tank to perform maintenance. The defendants told the worker several times over several days to get into the tank to unclog intake pipes, and on April 17, he reluctantly complied. Upon entering the underground tank, the worker was unable to breathe, passed out and suffered serious physical injury.

As a result of the incident and a subsequent investigation by the Attorney General's Environmental Crimes Unit and investigators from DEC and NYPD, the company and its two top officers are facing charges of Reckless Endangerment in the First Degree (PL § 120.25) and Endangering the Public Health, Safety or the Environment in the Second Degree (ECL § 71-2713(3)), both D felonies, and Endangering the Public Health, Safety or the Environment in the Fourth Degree (ECL § 71-2711(3)), an A misdemeanor.

The charges in the indictment are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

Detectives Joseph Wedge and Brian Hassett of the New York City Police Department's Organized Crime Control Bureau and DEC Environmental Conservation Police Lieutenant Cyril Parris, Technical Sergeant Jeff Lindell, Investigator Neil Ross, and Officers Sara Komonchak, Eric Templeton, and Kevin Beiter investigated the matter. Investigator Salvatore Ventola of the Attorney General's Office Investigations Bureau assisted in the investigation. The case was handled by Assistant Attorney General Julieta Lozano, Chief of the Criminal Prosecutions Bureau's Environmental Crimes Unit, under the supervision of Kevin Suttlehan, Deputy Bureau Chief of the Criminal Prosecutions Bureau and Janet Cohn, Bureau Chief of the Criminal Prosecutions Bureau.