After Scaffold Tragedy, Top Adams Aide Enlisted Lobbyist to Fight Developer Penalties
In 2019, now mayoral Chief of Staff Frank Carone stepped in as fixer for a project with a trail of shaky safety practices, after a 32-year-old woman suffered life-altering brain injuries.
On June 30, 2019, a warm and windy Sunday, a 32-year-old up-and-coming accountant named Haley Keating sat in the open courtyard of a Brooklyn bar celebrating a job promotion she’d just received that morning.
Then from out of the blue sky came hundreds of pounds of catastrophe.
Steel scaffolding 12 stories above plummeted from an adjacent condo under construction, blown off the roof by a sudden gust. The heavy frame crashed into the courtyard, smashing into Haley’s head, causing serious and long-lasting brain trauma that reversed the promising trajectory of her life.
Nearly three years later, the limited liability corporation that owns the condo building, 243 Development LLC, and one of its principals, Vadem “Dean” Brodsky — who was also site safety manager on the project — have yet to pay a dime in penalties for this.
One reason why appears to be the behind-the-scenes intervention of one of the most powerful men in the city right now: Frank Carone, chief of staff to Mayor Eric Adams.
Carone and the law firm where he was partner at the time entered the picture as the city Department of Buildings (DOB), the city Department of Investigation (DOI) and the Brooklyn district attorney began investigating the actions of the owners, including Brodsky, as well as contractors who worked on the building preceding the disaster.
“If you know the damage that’s been done to Haley and you understand how it’s affected her life and it will forever — her life is totally changed,” Kevin Keating, Haley’s father, said in an interview. “And they could have avoided it.”
Before Adams made him chief of staff, Carone was a politically wired lawyer who represented the Kings County Democratic Committee that’s backed Adams for years. Carone’s firm also had a lucrative practice that helped obscure the identity of clients by acting as a go-between to hire lobbyists to get things done at City Hall.
From 2017 through 2019, Carone personally provided this arrangement seven times for three clients, including 243 Development LLC.
Keating’s injury was heavily covered in local media, and the owners behind 243 Development LLC potentially faced serious sanctions after being hit with multiple violations by city building inspectors, including one of the most serious citations the department issues. DOB inspectors had also issued a stop-work order that shut down construction at the site while the investigation unfolded.
Carone personally arranged to hire a veteran city lobbyist, James Capalino, to lobby DOB for favorable treatment “on behalf of 243 Development LLC.” This had the effect of shielding the identities of the owners from public disclosure.
The principals of 243 Development LLC are already anonymous because limited liability corporations don’t require disclosure. But city lobbying rules require that clients provide a principal officer’s name in disclosure documents. By hiring Carone’s firm to act on its behalf and not hiring Capalino directly, the LLC effectively avoided public disclosure of its members that would have been required if they’d hired Capalino directly.
What’s more, because they had hired Carone, an attorney, their communications about this effort to sway the buildings department would be protected by lawyer-client privilege.
In an email to THE CITY Wednesday, Adams’ communications director, Maxwell Young, played down Carone’s involvement in the fallout from the scaffolding disaster on Fourth Avenue while acknowledging the attorney-client privilege benefit to the LLC.
“In this instance Carone was asked by a client to recommend a lobbyist, and made that connection through a standard procedure that offers attorney-client privilege,” he wrote. “He and his former law firm did no formal or informal lobbying on the issue, and weren’t involved in any way, other than making that recommendation.”
The investigation of the incident by DOI and the Brooklyn DA is still ongoing. But nearly three years after Keating’s life-altering injury, the owners have suffered zero sanctions as a result of the scaffolding collapse. They have, however, begun selling condos in the 12-story building, including one with an asking price of $4.5 million.
Meanwhile, THE CITY has reviewed hundreds of pages of documents the Keatings’ lawyer placed in the court record as evidence to support the lawsuit.
They indicate that days before the collapse, the owners’ construction manager, Werize Inc., knew the scaffolding tie-backs had been removed and that the structure was an unsecured hazard waiting to happen. They also show that Brodsky, in his role as site safety manager, at one point halted removal of the scaffolding.
THE CITY also found that:
- Six months before the accident, Brodsky, as one of the principals of 243 Development LLC, fired an independent site safety manager as a cost-cutting measure. Brodsky himself then assumed the job, checking on his own development’s safety adherence.
- Two weeks before the accident, Werize was aware the tie-backs had been removed from the roof scaffolding and told Brodsky they were sending a crew to dismantle it. Brodsky then intervened and ordered the crew Werize sent there to stop what they were doing and immediately relocate to a different job site he stated to be “more important.” The crew never returned to get the scaffolding job done.
- Eighteen days before the incident, there are no further entries into the daily log of scaffolding inspections at the site that’s required by law. When DOB showed up hours following the collapse, they cited Brodsky for this as the official site safety manager. That violation was later settled without a fine.
- DOB cited 243 Development LLC for failing to report the collapse as required. That violation was also settled without a fine, even after DOB initially rejected as inadequate the owners’ sworn certification that the site was now in compliance.
Haley’s mother, Elizabeth, told THE CITY, “It’s such a flagrant disregard for everything that is right and just. It’s difficult to grasp.”
A Call ‘No Parent Wants to Receive’
The Keatings described their daughter before the scaffolding disaster as outgoing, engaged in cultivating an interesting and promising career as an accountant — a young woman on the cusp of accomplishment.
When they received the call her dad said “no parent wants to receive,” they flew up from their native North Carolina to find their daughter hospitalized with serious brain trauma. She was a CPA but could no longer recall her multiplication tables. Her moods swung dramatically, and her energy level had dropped precipitously. She couldn’t focus on reading for more than 30 minutes.
“It’s like dealing with a 13-year-old,” Kevin Keating said. “You’re checking on her. You’re saying where is she? What’s she doing? Her decision-making is good but there are times where it’s not good. This is a girl whose ability to solve problems, and she was very creative — that’s all gone. It’s like somebody took an eraser to a board and wiped it all off.”
Haley’s mother, Elizabeth, described her recovery as “very small baby steps,” adding, “Every day as a mother I live in fear that this is as good as it’s going to get.”
The Keatings hired Westchester-based attorney Dylan Braverman, who filed suit in Manhattan Supreme Court. Demanding emails and cell phone records from 243 Development’s owners, Werize and Brodsky, Braverman soon discovered copious evidence of serious problems at the site preceding the collapse, according to court filings.
‘Extremely Over Budget’
Pushing to put up a 12-story luxury condo dubbed “Parlour” in Gowanus, one of the hottest real estate neighborhoods in Brooklyn, 243 Development found themselves in over their heads. In December 2018, Brodsky fired the site safety firm on the job, explaining in a Dec. 9 email that they were happy with the firm’s work but adding, “We are extremely over budget on this project and are looking to tighten up some of our spending.”
Brodsky then designated himself as site safety manager, three days after receiving a site safety license from the city, records show. Among his responsibilities was to walk the building daily, including inspecting the scaffolding on the roof.
In papers filed in the Keating’s lawsuit in February, attorney Braverman alleged that Brodsky, 243 Development and Werize “all had specific knowledge that the scaffolding bulkhead tie-backs were removed” days before the scaffolding collapse. And yet, he wrote, “nothing was done to remedy this incredibly dangerous hazard to the public 12 stories below.”
In a June 12, 2019 voicemail, the owner of a subcontractor on the job, C&L Stucco, said Werize had ordered him to remove some of some tie-backs holding the scaffolding in place on the roof, according to a transcript of the call filed in the lawsuit. In an incident report Werize later submitted after the collapse to the buildings department, they state that they ordered the scaffolding taken down that day.
That day, Brodsky walked the roof as the site safety manager, according to his records.
In the voicemail, C&L’s owner warned Werize, “I told you before to make sure the scaffolding company is there tomorrow to remove the scaffolding because it is not our responsibility because you told us to remove the tiebacks. I do not want to be responsible.”
In a sworn affidavit filed in the lawsuit, the same subcontractor said Werize informed him that he’d ordered that the scaffolding be taken down. The subcontractor also stated the contractor ordered to remove the scaffolding came back and “removed all anchor and front ties of the front scaffolding, making it 100% unsafe for the bulkhead scaffolding.”
In a June 14 WhatsApp communication, also included in the lawsuit, a Werize employee wrote to an employee of the scaffolding contractor, “Scaffolding coming apart on the bulkhead. Send guys to start dropping it.”
That same day, Brodsky intervened by ordering the crew sent to take it down to halt what they were doing and go to another site.
In a recording of his voice message, Brodsky stated that he was aware that Werize had sent a crew to remove the scaffolding, and then he added, “I’m not sure if they are on the bulkhead taking down the scaffolding on Fourth Avenue but if they are, you can take them and send them to Empire to get that shit over with. All right? That’s more important over there.”
As a result, the scaffolding remained on the roof.
In an affidavit Brodsky states that he was unaware that the tie-backs had been removed, but according to the log he kept as site safety manager there, Brodsky walked the roof at least four times after they’d been removed, noting that scaffolding removal was in process and, on June 19, that he’d requested “all debris cleared from scaffold on roof.”
Brodsky went on vacation for a few days, he said in a court affidavit, and a Werize employee took over as site safety manager. She reported in the safety log the day Brodsky left “work in progress disassembling scaffolding on roof.”
The next day heavy rains soaked the neighborhood, and the Werize site safety manager reported, “No work on scaffold due to heavy rain.” Nothing charged after Brodsky returned from vacation and resumed his role as site safety manager.
As of June 26, with Brodsky back on site, the scaffolding remained in place, according to Werize’s incident report. Now, however, the heavy rain had made the building elevator inoperable, and on June 26, 27 and 28, Brodsky as site safety manager reported in the safety logs there: “No work above the 7th floor.”
Two days after that on June 30, disaster hit. Three patrons in the restaurant courtyard were struck, but only Haley Keating was seriously injured. She was transported to nearby Methodist Hospital, where she would remain for weeks.
Free and Clear
The Department of Buildings hit Brodsky with an “Aggravated Offense Level 2” violation for failing to turn over the scaffolding inspection logs, and hit 243 Development LLC with a violation for failing to notify them of the accident. DOB issued a stop-work order, halting all work at the site.
As Haley Keating lay intubated in a bed at Methodist Hospital, Frank Carone entered the picture.
On July 24, he personally signed a letter “on behalf of 243 Development” hiring Capalino “to resolve a stop work order.” Lobbyist records list six Department of Buildings officials as Capalino’s intended targets, including some of DOB’s top executives.
Within a week of Carone’s involvement, the department began dismantling the stop work order. By September 17, 2019, it was fully rescinded, allowing construction to resume.
Department of Buildings spokesperson Andrew Rudansky said an email to THE CITY that lobbyists for 234 Development “reached out to DOB about how to resolve the Stop Work Order” and were “informed that the contractors need to resolve the violating conditions, provide DOB with a plan on how they will proceed with safe construction operations at the site in a Code-compliant manner, and request a reinspection from DOB.”
Asked by THE CITY to describe their interactions with DOB officials, Travis Terry, president of the firm, stated in an email, “Capalino works with its clients on a comprehensive basis, helping to secure permits from many agencies including — as in this engagement with [Carone’s firm] Abrams, Fensterman, etc. — the Department of Buildings. In this case we were hired to try and resolve a stop work order at 243 4th Avenue in Brooklyn.”
The stop-work order was removed bit by bit as on-site inspectors determined the construction site was in compliance with outstanding violations, Rudansky said. “None of those DOB employees mentioned [as lobbyist targets] perform these types of inspections,” he added.
Brodsky’s violation was removed after he provided DOB with the scaffolding inspections logbook. Asked by THE CITY whether that logbook contained missing entries for the 18 days leading up to the accident, Rudansky replied, “Our joint investigation with law enforcement into this incident is ongoing.”
As for the violation against 243 Development for failing to notify the city about the collapse, records show in October 2019, the owners certified to DOB that they’d remedied the violation. But DOB rejected the certification because the owners “did not provide sufficient details to demonstrate correction of the violation, and they were missing a confirmation number and a date on the paperwork,” Rudansky said.
DOB approved it a day later after 243 Development submitted the required documentation, Rudansky said.
At that point both 243 Development principal Brodsky and 243 Development were free and clear of all DOB violations related to the collapse. They did have to pay $5,900 in fines for an unrelated violation for allowing commercial signs on the sidewalk scaffolding surrounding the project.
While the owners and Brodsky paid no price for the collapse, Rudansky noted that Werize — which had already racked up multiple construction safety violations with DOB at the Fourth Avenue site and other jobs before the accident — had accumulated some $275,000 in fines. DOB ultimately sued Werize to enforce the fines.
When THE CITY called cell and business phone numbers attributed to Brodsky and asked for him, both times a man who answered asked, “Who is this?” When the reporter identified himself, the man said, “You have the wrong number” and hung up.
In a July affidavit filed in the Keatings’ lawsuit, Brodsky stated that he does “not have firsthand knowledge” of what caused the accident, adding that unnamed “inspectors” told him “it likely occurred due to heavy winds moving a portion of the scaffolding off of the roof and that tie backs may not have been secured to the bulkhead.”
In the affidavit, Brodsky stated, “Prior to the scaffolding collapse of June 30 I was not aware of unsecured scaffolding on the roof or tie backs that were removed from the bulkhead as alleged.”
Last month Steven Zecca, a lawyer for both 243 Development and Werize, asked the judge to dismiss the case, contending that they had no knowledge that the tiebacks had been removed before the accident and blaming subcontractors at the site.
On March 10th Zecca withdrew that motion. He did not respond to THE CITY’s request for comment.
Nearly three years after the accident, DOI and the Brooklyn DA are still conducting an investigation into what happened the morning Haley Keating was struck in the head by the scaffolding at 243 Fourth Ave.
On Thursday, spokespersons for both declined to comment other than to confirm that the investigation is still active. Calls from THE CITY to lawyers for 243 Development, Werize and Brodsky were not returned.