NEW YORK—A failure in proper oversight allowed a notorious developer to operate for two decades, and shoddy buildings are still standing. Critics say he couldn’t have done this without friends in the city government.
Tommy Huang, 59, and his wife, Alice Huang, 60, were banned for life in 1999 from building and selling residential properties in New York state. They broke that ban, and in September had to pay $4.8 million to the state attorney general to dodge a four-year prison sentence.
Attorney General Schneiderman said in a press release, “Mr. Huang’s misconduct stretches back decades and includes unsafe construction sites, environmental crimes, building code violations and fraudulent securities transactions–all in Queens.”
In 2007, Daily News likened Huang to a “one-man wrecking crew,” and noted that despite nearly two decades of shoddy building practices he was still getting building permits.
According to state Sen. Tony Avella, blame for lack of oversight should extend beyond the misdeeds of the Huang family. He said the NYC Department of Buildings (DOB), in particular, allowed them to operate for as long as they did—despite stacks of complaints and bad press.
“Every piece of property he touches becomes a problem,” Avella said. “So why, after problem, after problem was the Department of Buildings not cracking down on this individual? Either it’s malfeasance or corruption, but it has to be something.”
“Anybody else doing one-thousandth of a problem, like a homeowner, the city comes down on them like a ton of bricks, but this guy is Teflon. Nothing ever stops him. Nothing ever attaches to him,” Avella said.
The problems at a Huang development at 84-16 Queens Blvd. got the attorney general’s office involved, and illustrate the failure of oversight noted by Senator Avella.
Despite their ban on working in real estate, the Huangs had quietly continued their business behind their son Henry. On Jan. 10, 2011, a wall collapsed at the 84-16 Queens Boulevard site, pinning three construction workers and killing one of them.
The DOB had received more than 10 complaints about the property before the wall collapsed.
A Nov. 24, 2009, complaint to the DOB said the fire department told the department construction was being done on the site despite being given a stop work order. Yet, a comment from the Department of Building said the Huangs were “working in scope” of the order.
A caller on Oct. 14, 2010, warned them that workers were cutting away foundation, had no netting, and had no approved permits, according to a DOB record of the complaint.
On Nov. 12, 2010, the DOB received a warning that no shoring had been done and there was no protection for excavation on the property, as documented by the DOB. Shoring is a construction term that refers to supporting a structure to prevent collapse.
The DOB ruled the site safe a month later, after an order to “complete foundation on wall” had been given. A month after that, the fatal collapse took place.
Some of the most common problems with Huang’s properties stem from his not doing proper shoring, or properly testing the soil. This causes unstable foundations.
Epoch Times spoke with two real estate owners whose properties were allegedly damaged by Huang’s practices.
Neither would speak on record, yet both were concerned about what will happen to the Huang buildings still standing. What will happen, they each asked, when families move into homes built with potentially dangerous foundations?
Considering the hundreds of developments Huang has done in Queens since 1979, it’s a frightening prospect.
Tony Sclafani, spokesman for the DOB, said the department issued more than two dozen violations at the Queens Boulevard site, and issued several thousand dollars in fines. They have also had inspectors at the site and others owned by Huang.
Yet, the fundamental problem, according to Sclafani, is “the department does not have the authority to refuse the issuance of a permit based solely on past work history.”
Sen. Avella pointed out that Huang must be getting protection somehow. “Obviously, somebody has been protecting him. I don’t know who. Because I have been after the Department of Buildings for a decade to shut him down,” Avella said.
The Huangs are a powerful family, thanks to Alice Huang. She is the heiress to a fortune left from Taiwan’s Bull’s-Eye Barbecue Sauce. The company, founded by her father, was purchased by Kraft Foods.
She is also the cousin of John Liu, New York City comptroller and a mayoral candidate. Urban planner Paul Graziano suggested, according to the Daily News in 2012, that Huang’s ties to John Liu “could partially explain the city’s inaction.”
Tommy Huang’s longtime attorney, Lung Fong Chen, was close to Liu’s father, Joseph Liu, according to New York Post. Joseph Liu was convicted of bank fraud in 2001.
At press time, phone calls to Tommy and Alice Huang had not been returned. The office of H Rock Corp., chaired by their son Henry Huang, declined to comment. H Rock Corp. was among three companies fined for the Queens Boulevard collapse. No response was received from an email to John Liu.