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Landlord, Contractors Charged in NYC Explosion

MANHATTAN (CN) - A seven-alarm fire that killed two people and maimed dozens in New York's East Village last year wouldn't have occurred if not for the negligence of a landlord and her contractors, prosecutors said Thursday.

On March 26, 2015, a gas explosion inside 121 Second Ave., home to the restaurant Sushi Park, sparked an inferno that spread to three buildings in the area. Authorities barricaded the area for several blocks as about 250 firefighters fought for hours to put out the blaze.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance noted that disasters like these, including other fires and crane collapses, have become regular occurrences during the city's real estate boom.

"Development, construction and renovation is happening across the city at breakneck speed," Vance said in a statement. "In this market, the temptation for property owners, contractors, and managers to take dangerous - and, in some instances, deadly - shortcuts has never been greater."

On Thursday morning, Vance's office said that the East Village explosion followed this pattern, in announcing an indictment against building owner Maria Hrynenko, her son Michael Hrynenko, contractor Dilber Kukic, his partner Athanasios Ioannidis and plumber Andrew Trombettas.

In 2013, Ms. Hrynenko hired Kukic as a general contactor to renovate several of her buildings, and Kukic tapped an unlicensed Ioannidis as a plumber for 121 Second Ave., which her son managed, prosecutors say.

Ioannidis allegedly paid his former partner Trombettas to use his master plumbing license to file false paperwork to the New York City Department of Buildings.

The next year, Hrynenko told Kukic to take gas for her new upstairs tenants from Sushi Park's meter, and Ioannidis illegally connected hosing to the restaurant's meter, according to prosecutors.

After a July 2014 inspection, Con Ed turned off the gas, and Hrynenko allegedly arranged for an illegal workaround to an uncapped, commercial-grade meter at an adjacent property instead of following utility workers' instructions.

"The system was set up in the back of the building basement, behind locked doors, hidden from Con Ed, and obscured from view by tenants, workers, and potential inspectors," the DA's press release states.

On the day of the explosion, Ioannidis and Kukic manipulated the gas delivery system at 2 p.m. to prepare for an inspection, and a Sushi Park employee smelled gas about an hour later, prosecutors say.

The Hrynenkos, Kukic and Athanasios all face multiple counts of manslaughter, assault, criminally negligent homicide and reckless endangerment.

Athanasios is also charged with falsifying business records, while Trombettas is charged with filing a false instrument.

In recent years, New York City has unsuccessfully tried to crack down on allegedly negligent behavior tied to crane collapses, explosions and fires.

Manhattan prosecutors brought and lost similar charges in high-profile cases against New York Crane mogul James Lomma and four executives indicted in connection with the Deutsche Bank fire of 2007.

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