Updated: Friday, January 26, 2018, 3:01 AM
Four and a half years after the Salvation Army Thrift Store collapse that killed seven people and injured 13 others, Center City architect Plato Marinakos Jr. is still a licensed architect in Pennsylvania.
Even though a civil-trial jury found last February that he was among those liable for “negligent” and “outrageous conduct” that showed “a reckless indifference to the interest of others.”
Marinakos, 51, was never criminally charged in the collapse. He was granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for testimony that led to involuntary manslaughter convictions for contractor Griffin Campbell and excavator operator Sean Benschop.
Please, someone, tell me: How many people have to die on an architect’s watch before someone from the Pennsylvania State Department’s Architects Licensure Board finally yanks his right to practice?
“It’s horrendous,” says Nancy Winkler, whose daughter, Anne Bryan, 24, was crushed on June 5, 2013 when demolition activity on a building on the 2100 block of Market Street caused the collapse of the adjacent thrift store. Bryan had been in the shop with a friend, Mary Simpson, also 24, who perished with her. Marinakos, as “building representative” for the property’s owner, STB Investments, had been in charge of monitoring demolition activity for STB.
Says Winkler, “People keep saying that the right people are in prison for this” – Campbell and Benschop are serving lengthy criminal sentences – “and that should be enough.”
Or that the $227 million settlement negotiated for 19 plaintiffs in the civil case -– which included six defendants in the civil trial — ought to close the book on this disaster.
The notion is an affront to Winkler and her husband, Jay Bryan, whose grief for their daughter only worsened when they learned of the opportunities Marinakos missed to prevent the collapse from happening.
Each time, Marinakos’ ignorance or callousness trumped his professional responsibility to ensure “the safety, life and health of the public, an employee or other individual who may be affected by the professional work for which he is responsible.”
But as we roar toward the fifth anniversary of the collapse, Marinakos is still credentialed by the state. Records show his license was renewed last summer and is good through June 30, 2019. I wanted to ask if he’s been busy, but Marinakos didn’t respond to messages I left for him at his company, Plato Studio.
It’s as if the state never even read the formal complaint Jay Bryan submitted at the end of 2015 to the licensure board asking that Marinakos’ license be revoked. In the 26 months since, he hasn’t heard a peep about the complaint, other than an acknowledgement that it had been received.
“To our knowledge, there isn’t even an opportunity for us to hear what the state’s considerations might be,” says Winkler, the city’s former treasurer. “We don’t even know if the complaint is being pursued.”
I asked Wanda Murren, communications director for the Department of State, who said, “We can neither confirm nor deny an investigation of any licensee.” She added, “We investigate every complaint that we receive.”
Her department oversees 29 state boards that issue about one million licensees and conducts about 14,000 investigations a year. Due to volume, it’s impossible to issue interim reports as investigations unfold.
“People are often surprised how long an investigation can take, especially if a case is complex or there are criminal charges or civil proceedings,” said Murren. “Typically, the boards wait until those actions have completely played out. Very often [the findings] become a substantial part of what the boards look at in deciding whether they’re going to take action.”
Veteran construction-accident attorney Robert Mongeluzzi represented Winkler, Bryan, and other plaintiffs in the civil trial and is disgusted that the Marinakos complaint is still unresolved.
“The job of a government agency is to prioritize what you do. If you have 14,000 complaints and only one of them alleges that an architect caused a catastrophe where seven people were killed, it seems to me that should jump to the top of the list,” says Mongeluzzi.
Investigators could find plenty of expert opinions if they just plowed through transcripts of Marinakos’ damning civil-trial testimony. They’ll stop cold when they read the email in which he suggested a plan to deliberately create a danger for the Salvation Army property. At the time, Marinakos’ client, STB, was in a major dispute with the Salvation Army over access to the thrift store’s roof.
Marinakos wrote: “This is our thought with the chimney. will take our building down up to the chimney area, then we will call L&I and have L&I fine The Salvation Army for a dangerous case.”
Mongeluzzi presented it as the smoking gun at Marinakos’ trial, and the jury decided: Marinakos helped cause a deadly hazard. And on a beautiful summer morning in June 2013, seven people died, 13 were injured, 20 families were devastated, and a city’s heart was broken.
What more is there to know?