DA: Building owners to blame for 86th Street ‘deathtrap’

DA: Building owners to blame for 86th Street ‘deathtrap’
File photo by Paul Martinka

The owners of an 86th Street tenement turned their apartment building into a death trap as they violated city rules for bigger profits — and five people died in a fire as a result, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes claimed yesterday as he indicted the two building landlords on manslaughter charges.

FDNY investigators claim that Vasilios Gerazounis, 68, and his son Argyios, 37, increased their rent earnings by illegally modifying the building near Bay 25th Street to create more living spaces. As a result, escape routes for a group of tenants, including a young mother of two infant children, were closed off when a drunken tenant started a fire under the building’s stairs in January, 2010.

“The FDNY knows too well the horrific results of fires in illegally subdivided houses and apartments,” said FDNY Commissioner Salvatore J. Cassano. “They are potential deathtraps, created purely for profit, which put the lives of tenants and firefighters needlessly at risk.”

According to city records, the Gerazounises’ building was designed to house one family per floor. But, after the fire broke out, investigators learned that the second floor had been converted to accommodate two families and the third floor had been re-jiggered to house four families.

Hynes hit Argyios Gerazounis with an additional perjury charge after the younger landlord claimed he did not know how the renovated rooms were laid out, even though several tenants said he would enter every room to collect rent — and raise prices based on head counts. The Gerazounises would pack families into the building, then charge each person staying there between $150 to $200 a month, investigators claimed.

But neither Gerazounis lit the match: prosecutors say the fatal blaze was set when 27-year-old Daniel Ignacio allegedly doused a roll of toilet paper in paint thinner, set it on fire, and tossed it into a baby carriage below the stairs. The drunken tenant then fell asleep, allowing the flames to grow.

Cops arrested Ignacio shortly after the blaze. He’s currently awaiting trial on five counts of second-degree murder, officials said.

If convicted, the Gerazounises, who were both released on $200,000 bail, will be facing 25 years in prison. Argyios Gerazounis will face an additional three years in jail if he’s convicted of perjury, prosecutors said.

But the Gerazounises’ lawyer, George Vomvolakis, claimed that the landlords had no malicious intent — and claimed that the city’s Department of Buildings tacitly approved the alterations during a 2009 inspection.

“It does say a lot that the inspector was there a year ago and gave it a clean bill of health,” Vomvolakis told the New York Times.