Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Halliburton's Murky Name Resurfaces After Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill by Denis Hamill - NY Daily News

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Some things never change.

When Al Gaudelli, noted attorney and former Queens homicide prosecutor, first read about the disastrous oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, one word popped out of the spreading dark sea of words:


Halliburton is one of the world's largest oil-field services corporations. And, as we all know, the odious company that made Dick Cheney super rich. The same company that received exclusive no-bid government contracts for almost everything involving oil in the invasion of Iraq.

But Gaudelli wasn't thinking about Dick Cheney or the untold billions Halliburton made from Iraq.

He was reading the part of a newspaper story that said Halliburton might be in for some legal problems in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill because it was in charge of "cementing" on the rig.

"I flashed back to Aug. 18, 1973, when I was the chief homicide prosecutor in the Queens DA's office," says Gaudelli. "At the time Con Ed was building a water intake facility at 20th Ave. and 31st St. in Long Island City to suck water from the East River into coal turbines. A watertight cofferdam that was constructed to build the facility had collapsed. Two sandhogs, fathers of young children, died down there. One of the companies working on that cofferdam was Ebasco Services, a wholly owned subsidiary of Halliburton."

Like all New Yorkers, Gaudelli was saddened by the deaths of those two workers - Vincent Calzolaio, father of one, with a second kid on the way, and Donato Callaro, father of six.

"Then NYPD Sgt. Robert Byrne, a Harbor Patrol cop for 15 years back then, who knew that river better than anyone, called me up and said he'd watched them construct that cofferdam and that it wasn't kosher," says Gaudelli. "That corners were cut."

The veteran police salt took Gaudelli and a few ADAs out onto the river for a look-see.

Gaudelli says the construction plan was to anchor the intake facility to the river floor. In order to do that they had to put in a cofferdam, which is a watertight steel box made of corrugated tongue-and-groove steel sheeting that is driven into the hole to refusal.

"The bottom of the box was supposed to be sealed with saline concrete," Gaudelli says now. "Then the plan was to pump the water out of the box to allow workmen to go down there into the hole to build the water intake facility under the river. And later they were to remove the cofferdam. But we discovered that the contractors didn't put the concrete in place. Didn't do the cementing. And the goddamned bottom of the cofferdam kept blowing and causing great leaks. And finally on Aug. 18, 1973, it blew altogether, water rushing into the hole at 40-60 mph, and two sandhogs were killed."

Seven others barely escaped.

Gaudelli, aided by Sgt. Byrne and Detective Thomas Shay of the 17th homicide squad, conducted an exhaustive investigation and on Dec. 18, 1973, he brought homicide indictments against the contractors Spearin, Preston & Burrows, and Ebasco Services, and three of their supervisors. The charges stated that they had "failed to properly construct and supervise construction on the cofferdam and failed to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk of death in construction of the cofferdam."

Gaudelli says Con Ed was insulated from prosecution because they'd contracted the construction job out.

"Halliburton was insulated, too, because Ebasco was a subsidiary," Gaudelli says. "But as soon as we brought the indictments against the SOBs, these big companies hired the top lawyers from the biggest firms in town and our case was dismissed. But we wanted justice for those two men whose kids had lost their fathers because the contractors had failed to secure the cofferdam with concrete. So we appealed. But it was also denied. I always thought they'd all gotten away with murder."

Then, last week, Gaudelli, now a private attorney in Queens, was reading the papers about the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf and the name Halliburton pops out of the murk as possibly being legally responsible for the catastrophe. Oil construction experts were saying that the timing of the explosion indicates faulty, ahem, cementing. Transocean, the operator of the doomed oil platform, has claimed that Halliburton workers had been capping the 18,000 foot well with cement prior to the explosion that ultimately sank the rig, sending some 200,000 gallons of oil per day into the Gulf.

Talk about rounding up the usual suspects.

"Who knows if Halliburton will be held responsible for the oil spill," says Gaudelli. "It just gave me the chills that 37 years after two men died unnecessarily in Queens that one of the companies involved in that long forgotten underwater tragedy is implicated in the oil spill in the Gulf. Some things never change."