By Laila Kearney
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Prosecutors have indicted five people in a deadly gas explosion that destroyed a row of buildings in New York's East Village neighborhood last March, charging a landlord, her son and a pair of contractors with manslaughter, among other crimes.
The four, plus another person charged with a lesser crime, are accused in a scheme to save money by installing an illegal gas delivery system that led to an explosion and fire that collapsed three buildings, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance told a news conference on Thursday.
Those facing the top charge of second-degree manslaughter are the owner of the building that exploded, Maria Hrynenko, 56; the building manager and her son, Michael Hrynenko, 30; an unlicensed plumber, Athanasios Ioannidis, 59; and the general contractor on the project, Dilber Kukic, 40.
Andrew Trombettas, 57, a licensed plumber, was charged with two counts of illegally selling the use of his master plumber's license to Ioannidis to perform work on the building where the blast occurred.
"The individuals involved in the East Village gas explosion showed a blatant and callous disregard for human life," New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement.
It was not immediately clear who was representing the defendants.
Moises Locón, 27, an employee, and Nicholas Figueroa, 23, a customer at a sushi restaurant on the ground floor of the building where the blast occurred, were killed, and 13 others were seriously injured.
"These indictments will hopefully bring Mr. Figueroa and Mr. Locón's families some closure following this tragic event," De Blasio said.
The explosion was a result of approximately two years of gas tampering, illegal maintenance work and falsified documents, Vance said.
In 2013, Maria Hrynenko hired Kukic to renovate the property where the blast occurred, which held four floors of residential units and a sushi restaurant on the street-level floor.
Ioannidis, who illegally paid Trombettas for the use of his master plumbing license, was hired as the building's plumber, Vance said. While Trombettas was the plumber on record for the building, he never performed work there.
By early 2014, Hrynenko had leased all of the building's apartments, but utilities company Con Edison had not approved gas meters to be installed for the residences.
To bypass the approval, Hrynenko instructed her contractors to siphon gas illegally for the apartments from the building's sushi restaurant, Vance said.
Con Edison and the city's fire department inspected the system in July of that year and subsequently shut off gas to the building. The inspectors advised Hrynenko to hire a licensed plumber to rectify the situation.
"Instead, the defendants constructed another illegal, unsafe gas delivery system" by connecting to a commercial-grade gas meter in a vacant property next door, also owned by Hrynenko.
Eight months later, the blast occurred.
(Reporting by Frank McGurty and Laila Kearney; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Dan Grebler)