Wave of a magic wand led to man on witness stand in Market St. collapse

The site of the building collapse at 22nd and Market streets in Philadelphia on June 13, 2013. (CHARLES FOX/Staff Photographer)

GRIFFIN CAMPBELL, the contractor on the June 5, 2013, Market Street building collapse, was on the stand yesterday. And while he was there, his attorney, William Hobson, repeatedly and facetiously referred to another man, Plato Marinakos Jr., as his client's friend.

But the longer Campbell was on the stand, the clearer one thing became: With friends like Marinakos - the project's architect and expeditor, who was not criminally charged and was granted immunity in exchange for his testimony - Campbell didn't need enemies.

In fact, as the small-time contractor described his relationship with the connected architect, Marinakos sounded more like some evil fairy godfather.

With a wave of his wand, Marinakos, hired by property owner Richard Basciano to oversee demolition, got Campbell plenty of work. But he always took his cut off the top.

With another wave, Marinakos got Campbell the 2013 contract to demolish four Market Street buildings, despite the fact that before that job, Campbell had mostly worked odd jobs rehabbing dilapidated houses and operating a food truck.

Don't worry about it, Campbell testified that Marinakos assured him. He'd take care of everything. Campbell didn't even have his general contractor's license until January 2013 - not that it required more than handing over a couple hundred bucks and arrangements to pay back taxes. It's harder to get a driver's license.

Another wave of Marinakos' magic wand, and Marinakos promised Campbell a future in which he'd "never again have money problems." That meant a lot to a father of four who didn't graduate from high school.

"How do you not believe a guy like this?" Campbell asked on the stand.

For a while, it was a mutually beneficial relationship - until everything came crumbling down at 22nd and Market when a wall toppled onto the roof of the adjacent one-story Salvation Army thrift store, crushing the building and those inside. Six people were killed, 13 injured.

And just like that, Campbell's fairy godfather - poof! - disappeared, only to reappear to exchange his testimony for his freedom.

I'll ask the same questions I've been asking since this happened: How is this possible? How is it that someone literally could be the architect of a series of events that helped lead to people's demise and just wash his hands of the bloodshed for which he's also responsible? How could Basciano, the former Times Square porn king and owner of the building, who stood at the site the day it came tumbling down, also get a pass? How is everyone - and it's a long list - responsible for the broken system that led to this tragedy not on trial?

Instead, only the chumps with the least money and the most pigment are answering for their part in this tragedy. Both men are black.

Campbell could face life in prison without parole.

In July, Sean Benschop, the equipment operator who witnesses said was using his excavator to remove parts of the building being demolished - and who, tests showed, had marijuana in his system - pleaded guilty to six counts of involuntary manslaughter and related charges in a deal with prosecutors for no more than 20 years in prison.

To be sure, neither man gets a pass for helping to create a killing zone. And neither is overly deserving of our sympathy when six families are still mourning the loved ones they lost that day. When Campbell mentioned his four daughters and five grandchildren from the stand, my heart broke for City Treasurer Nancy Winkler and husband Jay Bryan, whose 24-year-old daughter, Anne Bryan, was killed.

Four months before the Market Street collapse, Benschop was caught using a backhoe to demolish a South Philadelphia home next to occupied properties, a violation of the city's building code.

"Sean, you know better," Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections' Scott Mulderig testified that he told him.

Maybe he knew better, but he certainly didn't do better. And Campbell had to have known he was out of his depth; anyone could see that. It sure seems as though some corners were cut, some lies were told.

L&I supervisor Perry Cocco testified yesterday that Campbell lied to him about using an excavator before the building collapse.

Cocco said that when he got to the scene shortly after the collapse, he confronted Griffin.

"Hand demo only, hand demo only," Cocco testified that Campbell said.

"What, are you kidding me?" Cocco said he replied. "Why is that machine running with a beam in it?"

But this is just another painful detail in an avoidable tragedy, a tragedy being replayed in a courtroom with surprisingly few people in attendance, where soon a man will be handed a sentence for his part, while others will continue to get away with murder.

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