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New Hyde Park Men Indicted for Apartment Blaze that Killed Five

Illegal subdivisions in Brooklyn building allegedly created deathtrap.

A New Hyde Park man and his son have been indicted on charges related to illegal modifications made to a Brooklyn apartment in which five people were killed in a 2010 fire.

Vasilios Gerazounis, 68, and his son, Argyrios Gerazounis, 37, joint owners of 2033 86th Street in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn are being charged with five counts of first degree reckless endangerment and one count of first degree assault among other charges, for the death of five tenants trying to escape an arson fire in the building on Jan. 30, 2010.

The indictment states that the tenants could not escape because the landlords had set up illegal subdivisions, blocking the tenants’ means of escape in case of a fire.

One of the victims, Luisa Chan, died saving her two-month old daughter and two-year old son. Both the children and her husband survived. The owners face up to a maximum of 25 years imprisonment. Argyrios Gerazounis faces an additional two-and-one-third to 7 years in prison for perjury charges.

Daniel Ignacio, a guest of one of the tenants, was allegedly drunk when he started a fire on the first floor. He was arrested shortly after the fire and charged with five counts of second degree murder and is in jail awaiting trial.

“Although the arsonist is responsible for setting the fire, he does not shoulder the blame alone,” Brooklyn District Attorney Hynes said in a statement. “The landlords share in the responsibility for each of the five deaths and the injuries. They owned, maintained, and made money from a building with illegal subdivisions that blocked tenants’ ability to escape in a deadly fire.”

The building was reportedly on record as a one-family unit on each of the second and third floors. After the fire was extinguished it was discovered that the second floor had been illegally converted into use for more than two families, and that the third floor had been illegally converted into use for four families. Approximately 10 people lived on the second floor, and 10 more lived on the third floor. According to the district attorney’s office, all of the tenants were illegal immigrants from Guatemala working as day laborers or in the retail industry.

New York City building codes require two means of direct exit on the second and third floors. Charges allege that walls had been set up and doors between rooms locked shut or sheet rocked, blocking all egress.

“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. I commend DA Hynes, his office, and all who took part for their aggressive pursuit of this investigation.”

At a hearing, Argyrios Gerazounis testified that he was allegedly unaware of any illegal partitions and denied knowing that more than one family lived on each floor. As a result of this false testimony, he has been indicted with two additional charges of first and third degree perjury and faces up to an additional two-and-a-third to 7 years in prison.

The defendants also owned and operated the adjoining building 2035 86th St. where investigatiors discovered similar illegal subdivisions also housing undocumented Guatemalans.

Both men were arraigned Friday at Kings County Supreme Court in Brooklyn.

Joann Donahue June 15, 2012 at 09:50 PM
Lock them up and throw away the key.

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