Friday, March 21st 2008, 12:12 AM
A city buildings inspector was arrested Thursday after confessing he failed to examine a doomed East Side crane just 11 days before it collapsed and killed seven people.
Edward Marquette betrayed the public trust "at the most fundamental level" when he blew off a complaint filed about the crane at the E. 51st St. site, said Department of Investigation Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn.
Marquette appeared in court just hours after the funerals of two construction workers killed in the horrific accident. Family members of the dead were outraged by his deception.
"It makes me damn mad," said Robert Bleidner, whose construction worker son Wayne was killed in the disaster on Saturday afternoon.
"I know for a fact my son was safety conscious about everything," said Bleidner, who is considering filing a suit. "He wouldn't have gotten in that seat if it wasn't okay."
Marquette, 46, was immediately suspended from his $52,283-a-year job at the city Buildings Department. He faces up to four years in prison on two felony charges. City officials also ordered the inspection of every crane checked by Marquette in the past six months.
The death crane was inspected one day before the fatal accident, and authorities said it was unlikely Marquette could have stopped the accident by doing his job on March 4.
But City Council member Jessica Lappin (D-Manhattan) wasn't buying that assertion.
"To me, this contention that it wouldn't have mattered is outrageous," she said. "This is inexcusable."
Marquette never inspected the crane after the complaint filed by Bruce Silberblatt, authorities said.
The 80-year-old ex-contractor warned the city on March 4 that the crane was improperly braced. The Daily News first reported Silberblatt's concerns on Sunday. The retiree was disgusted yesterday by Marquette's arrest.
"God knows what else he did," Silberblatt said. "I don't know how many inspectors have done this and gotten away with it. I suppose we'll never know."
Seven people were killed and one building pulverized by the falling crane in what Mayor Bloomberg called one of the worst construction accidents in city history.
Marquette lives in a second-floor apartment on W. 56th St. in Manhattan, where superintendent Dionico Suazo said he moved in two years ago after putting his father in a nursing home.
"He's a good son and a good tenant," said Suazo, 48. "Believe me, he's a good man."
Suazo said he had no idea what Marquette did for a living until now and was puzzled about his work schedule.
"He would leave every day at 7:30 in the morning, but three or four times a week I'd see him come back in the middle of the afternoon.
"He'd be back and I would wonder what he did for work because he gave me a good tip at Christmas," about $50, said Suazo.Marquette initially lied to investigators, insisting he had examined the crane and found no problems, authorities said. But the seven-year veteran admitted under questioning yesterday that his work sheet was falsified, officials said.
Marquette had inspected the crane at 303 E. 51st St. at least once, following a Jan. 19 citizen complaint given to the cranes and derricks unit. Marquette found "no violation warranted" because the crane was not in operation when he visited, records show.
The city is investigating those records and all of Marquette's paperwork from the past six months, raising the possibility of added charges. He was released without bail after his court appearance.
Authorities are unsure whether human or mechanical error was responsible for toppling the 30-ton crane.
The two construction workers buried yesterday were Brad Cohen, 54, of Long Island, who was remembered by his three children as "unselfish," and Anthony Mazza, 40, of Staten Island, who left behind a wife, Thalia and a 3-year-old son.