A former supervisor for the company that manages the city's Criminal Justice Center says he warned his bosses about lax maintenance and "dummied up" inspection reports on the elevators there years before one car barreled 15 stories out of control to the top last summer, paralyzing a deputy sheriff.
In a whistle-blower lawsuit, Duilio "Lou" Angelini says that not only did his warnings go unheeded, but that when he continued raising concerns after the 2016 crash, he was demoted and then fired from his longtime job with U.S. Facilities Inc.
The allegations in Angelini's lawsuit offer one possible explanation for one of the more terrifying — and still unanswered — accidents in the city in recent years, in a building visited by thousands of people each day.
On Aug. 4, 2016, an employee elevator at the criminal courthouse at 13th and Filbert Streets shot upward at more than twice its rated speed, crashed into the top of the shaft, and punched through the concrete floor of the elevator machinery room.
The car's sole passenger, Paul Owens, then a sergeant for the Sheriff's Department, was severely injured and left paralyzed from the chest down.
The cause of the crash remains unclear; that elevator and a second employee elevator have been out of service while an official investigation continues. Up to 4,000 people a day — including court employees, judges, and staff — cram the six public elevators remaining in service, which have been bolstered with new safety measures.
Angelini, a 60-year-old from Sewell, Gloucester County, said his warnings came years before the accident.
According to his lawsuit, filed July 26 in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, he joined U.S. Facilities in 2002 and by 2013 was the building manager for the justice center. Over four months in late 2013 and early 2014, he contends, he told company officials, including president James Dobrowolski and chief operating officer James Dorris, about the "lack of preventative maintenance and serious deficiencies" on the elevators.
But his complaints were ignored, the lawsuit says.
After the accident that paralyzed Owens, Angelini said, he again raised concerns about the elevators' maintenance and inspection. But in January, he was demoted. Then, on Feb. 3, his lawsuit says, he was fired from his $105,000-a-year position. His suit seeks unspecified monetary damages from his former employer.
H. David Seidman, a lawyer for U.S. Facilities, said company officials "strongly dispute the claims in the lawsuit filed by Mr. Angelini. The allegations in the lawsuit are baseless and without merit, and we will vigorously defend ourselves against them. We place the highest priority on the safety of our employees and those entrusted to our care."
Headquartered in Philadelphia, U.S. Facilities has managed government and commercial buildings and properties nationwide since 1967.
Some of its principals have long-standing ties with city government. Founder and chairman Willie F. Johnson spent 18 years as a regional social services commissioner for the state and led the city's Employment and Training Office. Board member Thomas A. Leonard was city controller from 1979 to 1983.
Angelini's lawyer, Mark D. Schwartz, said the suit "was filed after a good deal of thought and consultation with my client. It speaks for itself."
His claims echo the allegations raised by Owens, 49, and his wife, Heather, 40. In a personal-injury lawsuit filed in January, they contend the crash occurred at least in part because complaints about elevator maintenance and inspections had been ignored.
Their lawsuit didn't name Angelini or cite detailed proof but names as defendants not only U.S. Facilities but also the Philadelphia Municipal Authority, the agency that acts as landlord for city-owned buildings, and subcontractors Thyssenkrupp Elevator Corp., the German international conglomerate with U.S. headquarters in Troy, Mich. that took over elevator maintenance on July 1, 2016; and Schindler Elevator Corp., locally based in Moorestown, which previously had the elevator maintenance contract.
"Based on our investigation to date and the number of court orders we've had to get against these defendants, I suspect they've known about problems with these elevators for some time before the unfortunate accident involving Mr. Owens," said Michael V. Tinari, the lawyer representing the Owenses. "Our lawsuit has always been about a failure to property maintain these elevators."
According to Angelini's lawsuit, he started with U.S. Facilities in 2002, rose to become building manager for the Criminal Justice Center, and in February 2016 was promoted again to project manager for the justice center, the Municipal Services Building, and One Parkway Building of city offices.
In his lawsuit, he contends that elevator maintenance at the criminal courthouse was deferred to focus more on the Municipal Services Building and One Parkway, that maintenance certificates for elevators there were "pencil whipped, dummied up," and that elevator inspection log books were not being updated.