The operator of a Sunset Park construction company has been sentenced to two to four years in prison in connection with an excavation wall collapse that killed construction worker, Luis Sanchez Almonte. The site’s foreperson was convicted of criminal mischief and is awaiting sentencing.
“The death of Luis Sanchez Almonte was not an accident but a preventable disaster that was caused by disregard of safety protocols and reported signs of danger," said Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez. "The prison term imposed today is an affirmation of these facts – and also a message that those who put their workers in jeopardy will pay a steep price when their actions result in tragedy.”
The defendant has been identified as Jiaxi “Jimmy” Liu, 49, of Staten Island. He was sentenced today to two to four years in prison following his conviction in March of criminally negligent homicide, first-degree offering a false instrument for filing, fraudulent practices in violation of worker’s compensation laws, fourth-degree city criminal tax fraud.
Wilson Garcia, 48, of Staten Island, who served as the foreman at the construction site was convicted of fourth-degree criminal mischief. He is expected to be sentenced on October 18, 2023. Two other codefendants previously entered guilty pleas: Jia Rong “Tommy” Liu, 52, of Brooklyn, to petit larceny, and Cindy Chai, 45, of Staten Island, to tax fraud.
“Ignoring construction safety laws can have tragic and deadly consequences, as it did in this case," New York City Department of Investigation Commissioner Jocelyn E. Strauber said. "The custodial sentences imposed on Jiaxi Lu and Wilson Garcia are a warning to construction company owners that prioritize speed and cost over worker safety.”
According to the evidence, between April and September 2018, construction workers employed by WSC Group Inc., owned by Liu, performed demolition, excavation and foundation work at a construction site at 714 39th Street in Sunset Park. Despite warnings of dangerous conditions at the site from workers and adjacent property owners, Liu refused to stop work at the site.
On September 12, 2018, at approximately 2 p.m., a portion of a support of excavation system and an existing masonry wall – adjacent to residential apartment buildings – collapsed, trapping Luis Sanchez Almonte under approximately 15,000 pounds of debris. First responders couldn’t recover Almonte’s body until the following day due to unstable conditions at the site, which were worsened by significant rain.
Evidence showed that Liu ran WSC Group, the company hired to perform the excavation work and it was his responsibility to give instructions to the foreperson and workers. Garcia served as the foreperson and “competent person,” designated to identify hazards and take immediate action to correct the hazards on site.
Liu was informed of a number of potentially dangerous conditions yet he ordered workers to continue working on the underpinning at the rear of the site and in the days immediately preceding the collapse allowed a trucking company to continue to remove truckloads of dirt during a heavy rainstorm, further destabilizing the site and contributing to the fatal collapse.
In addition, WSC defrauded the New York State Insurance Fund by making false statements about who it was employing, and also committed tax fraud by failing to file taxes between 2015 and 2018.