Firefighters union to D.A.: Charge factory owners

Posted: February 06, 2014

THE FAMILIES of fallen Philadelphia Fire Department Lt. Robert Neary and firefighter Daniel Sweeney wanted justice, plain and simple.

What they got, nearly two years after Neary and Sweeney died while battling an enormous factory fire in Kensington, was a whole lot of nothin'.

Joe Schulle, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 22, said yesterday that Neary's and Sweeney's kin were "devastated" when they learned Monday that District Attorney Seth Williams wasn't going to file charges against Michael and Nahman Lichtenstein, the owners of the former Thomas Buck Hosiery factory, despite a damning 110-page grand-jury report on the case.

"It's a huge injustice to our membership, that the people that caused this tragedy to occur are just allowed to walk around like nothing happened," Schulle said.

"They actually put in the claim to get the million-dollar insurance policy that they had on the building."

Schulle said Williams "doesn't believe in taking on difficult cases. He takes on cases that he knows he can win."

The union president then called on the D.A. to reconsider his position, and prosecute the Lichtensteins, both of whom were excoriated by the grand jury for blatantly ignoring the dangerous, deteriorating condition of the Buck building for several years before the fatal blaze.

"Charge these parasites, and make the statement that this behavior will no longer be tolerated in the city of Philadelphia," Schulle said.

Williams noted in a separate interview that federal and local investigators never determined how the April 2012 fire was started, making it "almost impossible" to make a criminal case stand up in court.

The grand jury also found that the Department of Licenses & Inspections, along with the Revenue and Law departments, had failed to hold the Lichtensteins accountable for numerous code violations and unpaid taxes long before the factory was consumed by flames.

"My heart and condolences go out to the Neary and Sweeney families, first and foremost," Williams said.

"This is not a situation of the District Attorney's Office being afraid of anything. . . . I understand the visceral reaction, but I can't prosecute everyone that I'm mad at."

Williams said he hoped that Neary's and Sweeney's loved ones would focus their energies on pushing for improvements to L&I and the Fire Department, which he said isn't properly funded.


On Twitter: @dgambacorta

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