Where's Basciano?

HELEN UBIÑAS / DAILY NEWS STAFF Richard Basciano seems to have done the #PhillyShrug on last year's collapse of a building he owned that killed six and injured 13 more. Maybe it's time we started asking #WheresBasciano?
HELEN UBIÑAS / DAILY NEWS STAFF Richard Basciano seems to have done the #PhillyShrug on last year's collapse of a building he owned that killed six and injured 13 more. Maybe it's time we started asking #WheresBasciano?
Posted: June 06, 2014

MAYBE ONE DAY Richard Basciano will have to answer to his maker about his role in the deadly Market Street building collapse.

We will have to wait for that, because in the year since part of his crumbling building came crashing down on the Salvation Army thrift store, killing six people, injuring 13 others, the serial slumlord hasn't had to answer to anyone. Not publicly anyway.

That's odd because almost everyone else associated with the preventable disaster has.

The city's Department of Licenses & Inspections implemented new policies and procedures after it was rightly scrutinized - although based on a recent performance report, it still has a long way to go.

The mayor apologized a couple of times and convened a blue-ribbon commission to investigate the collapse.

Sean Benschop, the excavator operator, and Griffin Campbell, the contractor, are facing multiple murder charges. A grand jury is still investigating the disaster, and multiple lawsuits have been filed.

But no charges have been lodged against Basciano, the man who owned the killer building, and whose buildings had already killed one man and injured another.

Days after the collapse, I went to Basciano's swanky Symphony House residence looking for answers. Other than a short statement released by his company, there was nothing from Basciano then, and nothing since.

A city mourned and waited for answers, and yet the man who owned the building said nothing. Not a word. Not an apology. Nothing. How is that possible? How is that acceptable? How does a man with that much blood on his hands get to remain silent?

Of course, we all know why, but the power and connections and money that shield a person like Basciano don't make it any less disgusting.

Employees at Basciano's Broad Street high-rise more than earned their paychecks by keeping away a pesky commoner when I popped in unexpectedly last year. So this week I tried a different approach: a handwritten letter I told the building concierge I simply wanted to drop off.

In the letter, I reminded the former Times Square porn king that it's been a year since the deadly collapse. Why? Because wealth and privilege affords the elite an enviable distance from ugliness - even their own. That's a distance that isn't afforded to the people whose lives were shattered that day.

Not city Treasurer Nancy Winkler and her husband, Jay Bryan, whose daughter, Anne Bryan, 24, was among those killed. Winkler and her husband fought to turn the site into a memorial park.

Not Maggie Davis, the wife of Borbor Davis, a Liberian immigrant and dedicated Salvation Army employee who always did what was needed. And whose family now waits for the right thing to be done by them.

Not the family of building inspector Ronald Wagenhoffer, who took his own life a week after the collapse.

If I ever talk to Basciano, I'll be sure to tell him about all the families. But in the letter, I kept it simple: Since the awful day his derelict building came tumbling down, many have had to deal with life-altering loss. But he hasn't had to answer for any of it. Don't you think it's time?

When I pressed the building concierge about when Basciano might get my letter, he shrugged. He's out of town, he said. He didn't say where. Basciano could have been in South Jersey or the south of France for all I know. Or maybe just up in his pricey apartment, safe from the devastating reality that the loved ones of those who died have lived with every single moment of every single day since June 5.

Like I said, with power and wealth come perks that the rest of us will never understand. Certainly not Campbell and Benschop, the only two people who have been charged in the building collapse.

Campbell's lawyer, William Hobson, said his client is just a scapegoat, a working stiff who doesn't have the economic or political clout enjoyed by the rich suits. (Basciano's architect, Plato Marinakos, has been granted immunity to testify.)

Hobson's client doesn't get a pass from me. But the lawyer does have a point - it shouldn't be overlooked that the two guys with the least amount of money and most amount of pigment got charged first. Both Campbell and Benschop are black.

After I left Basciano's building this week, I went by the site of the collapse. There are a few flowers attached to the chain-link fence, but mostly it's been scraped clean of any hint of the pain and destruction that played out there. Soon, it will be a memorial park. I hope that brings the families of the victims some peace.

And yet, as I stood there, watching people pass by with hardly a glance at the empty lot, I could still see the mounds of bricks and debris that trapped Mariya Plekan for nearly 13 hours and that cost her both of her legs.

In an interview with reporters Tuesday, Plekan had a message for those responsible: "How am I supposed to live now?"

You hear that Basciano? She deserves an answer from everyone responsible - including you.

Under the watchful eye of police officers parked nearby, I added my own contribution to the chain-link fence: a question scribbled on the back of a legal pad that we should all be asking, "Where's Basciano?"


Email: ubinas@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5943

On Twitter: @NotesFromHel

On Facebook: Helen.Ubinas

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