Defense Lawyer Says NY Crane Owner Hid Nothing

Prosecutors wrongly claimed a construction crane owner ignored city requirements and deceived inspectors to get a cheap repair on a rig that then collapsed and killed two workers, a defense lawyer said Thursday.

Prosecutors misinterpreted and extrapolated in saying James Lomma violated building codes and industry standards by getting a crucial crane part from a little-known company, defense lawyer Paul Shechtman said in a closing argument in Lomma's manslaugher trial.

And it's unfair to suggest Lomma veiled the new component and its origins from officials, since his firm had the city's then-chief crane inspector check it out, among other steps, Shechtman said.

"That's a weighty accusation, and that is monstrously untrue," Schectman said. ".Nothing was hidden from anyone."

Prosecutors were due to give their summation Friday in the only criminal trial stemming from that May 2008 collapse on Manhattan's Upper East Side. Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Daniel Conviser will decide the case without a jury, at Lomma's request.

Prosecutors trace the collapse to Lomma's decision to get a replacement turntable - the part that lets the crane's arm swivel - from a Chinese company his mechanic found online, rather than from more established American manufacturers who quoted higher prices and longer timeframes.

A month after the new turntable was put into service, the weld failed and caused the accident, prosecutors say. The 200-foot-tall crane's long arm snapped off, tore into a nearby building and tumbled to the ground. Crane operator Donald C. Leo, 30, and sewer company worker Ramadan Kurtaj, 27, were killed.

"They were killed because one man valued his own profit over the safety of others," Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Eli Cherkasky said in his opening statement in February.

But Lomma's lawyers said he acted reasonably and responsibly in getting the repair done and inspected, points Shechtman underscored Thursday.

Although a representative for the supplier had at one point expressed doubt to Lomma's mechanic that the firm could handle the welding work, she later wrote that "we can do this" - and the mechanic never told Lomma about the exchange, Shechtman said.

"There's some initial confusion, and it's dispelled. And (Lomma's company) got what it ordered," the attorney said.

At any rate, Lomma's lawyers say, the weld wasn't to blame for the collapse. They say an operator's mistake rocked the crane and ultimately sent the arm over backwards - an argument another Lomma attorney, Andrew Lankler, was expected to go over later Thursday.

Lawyers for the slain workers' families have called that claim offensive bunk.

Lomma and his companies, New York Crane & Equipment Corp. and J. F. Lomma Inc., are on trial. If convicted, he could face up to 15 years in prison, and the company could be fined.