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Trump Soho Is Not an Oxymoron

Alex Sapir swore in the Times story that it was the first he’d heard of Sater’s criminal past: “This is all news to me,” he said. Given the tight circle of Soviet-born real-estate players in New York, that’s hard to believe. There’s also a curious link between Tamir Sapir and Sater through a Gambino-family soldier named Edward Garafolo, who, according to separate indictment papers cited in the December 17 Times story and an earlier Times story about Tamir, collected money from one and tried to shake down the other at virtually the same time in the mid-nineties. Trump, for his part, calls the Sapirs “great friends” but avoids any mention of Sater, whose company is involved in at least four other Trump projects.

In 2006, there were eighteen construction-related deaths in New York City. In 2007, there were twelve, and this year is off to a terrible start: eleven deaths in just three months, seven of them coming at the March 15 crane collapse at 303 East 51st Street. The rise in fatalities has been attributed to the large increase in construction projects and the speed with which they’re going up, of course, but also to Bloomberg-era cutbacks in the number of building inspectors. The boom has had a steep cost.

The death at Trump Soho came on January 14. That morning, one of the project’s 600-member crew, Yuriy Vanchytskyy, a Ukrainian construction worker from Greenpoint, showed up at the site at his usual 6 a.m. He was laboring near the top of the building around two o’clock, preparing to pour concrete into a wooden mold that doubled as a makeshift floor, when the structure gave way, sucking Vanchytskyy and another man into a downpour of debris and wet cement. The more fortunate of the two workers got caught in the netting two floors below and survived. Vanchytskyy was thrown past the net and plunged 42 stories, his body landing on top of the building’s jutting second floor. The fall decapitated him. Before EMS and fire trucks swarmed the scene, shaken co-workers lowered the unconscious survivor to the ground with a crane, using the debris bucket as an improvised stretcher. Then they went up to the second-floor ledge and covered Vanchytskyy’s body with a tarp. Amid renewed protests, the city shut down the site for the second time. “This is what we get when they make us rush the job,” a worker told the Daily News.

Yuriy Vanchytskyy, a Ukrainian construction worker from Greenpoint, plunged 42 stories when a wooden mold gave way. The fall decapitated him. “This is what we get when they make us rush the job,” a co-worker said.

The contractor, Bovis Lend Lease, had previously been involved in the protracted and disastrous disassembly of the Deutsche Bank tower near ground zero, stalled since the deaths of two firefighters in an August 18 fire. Now Bovis faced a new round of scrutiny. After forensic engineers established that the wooden forms that held the concrete failed to meet industry standards, newspapers began receiving tips laying the blame on Bovis’s concrete subcontractor, DiFama, whose co-founder Joseph Fama is a Lucchese-family associate, currently serving a 50-month jail sentence for racketeering. Fama officially divested himself of the company, according to a Times story about the accident, but is believed to retain a hand in it. Bovis has a long history of safety violations—it paid over $71,500 in fines in the past three years, including for seven separate violations of fall-protection protocols.

After an inspection of the site by the Department of Buildings, work resumed at Trump Soho on February 21, with Bovis and DiFama still on the job. Two months later, on a windy Saturday in March, glass panels came crashing off the tower’s side and shattered on the sidewalk, shutting down the block. Perhaps the ghost of Jane Jacobs was monkey-wrenching the project. But this time, the ensuing outcry had an almost perfunctory air to it. Bovis got slapped with another violation, and the workers were back within days. Before the month was over, another Bovis crane collapsed, in Miami, killing two. Days ago, the DOB, newly vigilant about cranes after the recent midtown collapse, inspected Trump Soho’s and found hairline cracks and a broken beacon. Yet another stop-work order followed, but it’s unlikely to last. “It seems like no matter what happens, [the project] at most just gets a temporary delay,” says Andrew Berman. The previous manic dash put the tower so far ahead of schedule that all the stop-work orders simply brought it in line with original expectations. Alex Sapir still projects it will be done by the spring of 2009.

Lately, it’s been rumored that Trump himself, fed up with the ugly publicity, has begun downplaying his connection to the building, and even put out feelers to potential buyers (he denies that). But Trump Soho, at this point, is bigger than Trump. Like a creeping kudzu, like the villain rising from the bloody bathtub, it keeps coming back.