NY concrete lab chief gets up to 21 years in prison for faking test results on big projects

NEW YORK (AP) — A concrete-testing company president convicted of concocting results for iconic projects such as ground zero's centerpiece skyscraper was sentenced Wednesday to up to 21 years in prison in a racketeering case that spurred him to attempt suicide twice.

"No excuse makes my shortcomings disappear," said Testwell Laboratories Inc. chief V. Reddy Kancharla, wearing a neck brace his lawyer said was needed because of injuries Kancharla suffered in trying to hang himself last month.

"I want you to know that Testwell was not a criminal enterprise and that I am not a criminal mastermind. ... I have tried to lead an honorable life," Kancharla added.

Kancharla, his firm and company Vice President Vincent Barone were convicted in February of faking concrete and steel strength test results for nearly 120 projects in and around the city, including schools, hospitals, subways and the new Yankee Stadium.

The stadium, ground zero's Freedom Tower and at least at least 32 other buildings so far have been retested and declared safe. The city alone has spent more than $1 million on retesting and related costs, officials have said.

The case initially called the projects' durability into question, and it prompted tougher oversight of concrete testing, which is often conducted by private labs. City inspectors started conducting new spot checks on concrete testing procedures, generating dozens of violation notices.

While Testwell's fraud hasn't been linked to any danger, "both the general public and the trade union members who worked in, on and under the structures long before the public occupied them could have been jeopardized," state Supreme Court Justice Edward McLaughlin said as he sentenced Kancharla to seven to 21 years in prison. "The Testwell case therefore represents not only a decade of deceit and collusion, but a potential hazard."

Testwell's deception ranged from changing test results on concrete samples to making up results for steel inspections that weren't conducted, prosecutors said.

Defense lawyers said the Ossining, N.Y.-based company and executives didn't mean to cheat anyone. What were charged as crimes were merely mistakes, contract disputes and typical practices in the industry, the attorneys said.

The company was sentenced Wednesday to pay more than $1.7 million in restitution, but lawyer Cesar de Castro said the firm didn't have it. Barone was sentenced last month to 63 months to 16 years in prison. He was allowed to remain free on bail while appealing his conviction.

Kancharla, his expression grim, nodded at his family as he was led away to begin his prison term. He also must pay $225,000 in restitution.

"He's resigned to appeal," said his lawyer, Paul Shechtman.

Kancharla, 46, slashed his wrist and took sleeping pills in February, according to his lawyers, as jurors deliberated on the top charge against him — enterprise corruption, New York's version of racketeering. He had already been convicted of some lesser charges and was found guilty of enterprise corruption and other counts days later.

His second suicide attempt came on the eve of his initial sentencing date last month, Shechtman said.

"The last two years have been a nightmare to me and my family," Kancharla told the court Wednesday. "I tried to take my life to spare my family from further trauma and agony."

Kancharla, an engineer who immigrated from India 25 years ago, apologized for the loss of hundreds of jobs as the company collapsed amid the charges.

While one Testwell manager was acquitted of all charges, two of the lab's engineers have pleaded guilty to conspiracy. Several other officials and employees are to be tried separately on various charges.