NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – The courtroom was packed Friday for the sentencing of three people convicted in the deadly 2015 East Village gas explosion that killed two men at a restaurant.
More than a dozen others, including first responders, were injured.
Building owner Maria Hrynenko, 60, contractor Dilber Kukic, 44, and unlicensed plumber Athanasios Ioannidis, 63, were all given the same sentence: 4-12 years in state prison. The defendants faced a maximum of 15 years.
Hrynenko cried. Dozens of supporters there for them did too.
“It’s not enough. It’s a joke,” said Nixon Figeuroa, Nicholas Figueroa’s father. “What kind of justice did you give us? You didn’t give us no justice. It’s a slap in my son’s face.”
Back in November, jurors found Hrynenko, Kukic and Athanasios guilty on all charges against them, including manslaughter.
In March 2015, there was a massive explosion at 121 Second Avenue in the East Village. A seven-alarm fire engulfed three buildings. Two people inside restaurant Sushi Park were killed: 26-year-old Locon, a busboy, and Figueroa, a customer on a first date. Thirteen others were seriously injured. One man visiting New York City for the first time lost an eye.
At trial, prosecutors argued the three illegally tapped into a gas line from the restaurant to service another building out of greed, because Hrynenko, the owner of several buildings, had newly renovated apartments to lease out but no gas to service them and didn’t want to miss out on rent.
Her lawyer argued she hired people to do work and knew nothing about an illegal gas line.
Friday, the judge said she was “the driving force behind it” and that though they did not intend to blow up the building, they “rolled the dice with the lives of many people.”
The only defendant to speak was Kukic. Though the immigrant from Montenegro used a translator throughout the trial, he addressed families of the victims in court in English.
“He said that he would gladly give up his own life for the lives of the people who lost their lives,” Kukic’s lawyer Marc Agnifilo said.
One of Moises Locon’s brothers cried as he told the court about playing soccer in his native Guatemala with his brother, and how his body had to be identified through DNA, upsetting the family further.
“Having to take him back to Guatemala in a coffin unrecognizable to them,” he said.
Nicholas Figueroa’s mother told the court how she lost the will to live that day.
“I mean, he had a lot of life in him. He wanted to do so much. He wanted to help people. He is going to be missed,” Ana Lanza Figueroa said.
“Developers and property owners across the City should keep today’s sentencing in mind as New York’s building boom continues into 2020,” Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance said in a statement. “If you cut corners based on expediency and profit and kill or injure New Yorkers in the process, you are engaging in criminal conduct and my Office will seek significant prison time.”
All three defendants were handcuffed and taken into custody immediately following sentencing. Lawyers say they plan to appeal and are trying to get their clients out on bail.
Ioannidis was also charged with falsifying records.
Separately, Kukic has a federal charge for bribery.