NEW YORK (AP) — An inspector accused of falsely claiming he had examined a construction crane before it collapsed and killed seven people was acquitted Friday of all charges related to the 200-foot-tall crane that smashed through midtown Manhattan.
Edward Marquette was convicted of six other charges related to falsifying records of separate inspections on two other dates. The most serious count, offering a false instrument for filing, is punishable by up to four years in prison.
Marquette had not been blamed for the 2008 accident that tore a block-long gash through midtown and helped spur both new crane safety regulations and the departure of the city buildings commissioner. Instead, prosecutors argued that he was a laggard exposed by the disaster.
State Supreme Court Justice Thomas Farber delivered the verdict following a non-jury trial in which Marquette's lawyer depicted him as a scapegoat for an accident that rattled the city. Officials said an inspection probably wouldn't have prevented the collapse, but his arrest was touted as an example of the city's determination to expose misconduct.
Farber said he was acquitting Marquette of the charges related to the collapsed crane because prosecutors hadn't proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the false papers were in fact filed with the city. He said Marquette couldn't be convicted of the most serious charges of tampering with public records because no previously existing records had been altered.
Defense lawyer Andrew Freifeld said he was disappointed with the guilty verdicts and promised to appeal.
Buildings Department records showed that Marquette had checked the crane days before the March 15, 2008, collapse, but Freifeld acknowledged during the trial that Marquette didn't do the inspection. He told officials otherwise to cover for a superior, Freifeld said.
Prosecutors maintained that they found Marquette had a history of lying on his work logs. On several days, cellphone records indicated he was at or near his apartment when his route sheet showed him doing inspections a mile or more away, according to evidence at his trial.
Freifeld said prosecutors made too much of petty discrepancies in a workplace where rules about route sheets were flexible.
Marquette resigned from his $52,000-a-year job shortly after his arrest.
Two months after the midtown Manhattan crane collapse, another huge crane snapped apart and fell on Manhattan's Upper East Side, killing two workers. Together, the accidents led to multiple criminal cases, a roster of new crane safety regulations and the departure of the buildings commissioner and others in the department.
Among them was Michael Carbone, the senior inspector who initially recorded sending Marquette to check on the midtown crane before it collapsed. Marquette's lawyer said the inspector never actually was sent there.
After the crane collapses, Carbone was suspended for "neglect of duty." City records showed he had dismissed complaints that some crane operators were working with licenses obtained fraudulently. He resigned in July 2008.
The rigger of the midtown crane and the owner of the Upper East Side crane were acquitted of manslaughter in the collapses.
Associated Press writer Jennifer Peltz contributed to this report.
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