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Inspectors let Con Ed edit gas leak file

The Sanford Avenue apartment where a fatal 2008 gas explosion took place is in shambles after the blast. Photo courtesy David Pace
TimesLedger Newspapers

Members of a state agency assigned to investigate the role Consolidated Edison played in a deadly 2008 Queens gas explosion were secretly passing their findings onto a consultant for the utility, a report from the state inspector general alleged.

“Individuals charged with these crucial responsibilities have a statutory duty to avoid any conflicts of interest,” Inspector General Catherine Scott said in the report released July 18. “By accepting these gifts and disseminating confidential information, these employees breached this duty.”

In 2008, two members of the state Department of Public Service — Joseph Klesin and Steven Blaney — were part of a team investigating a gas explosion near the corner of 149th Street and Sanford Avenue in Flushing that killed Edgar Zaldumbide and injured 16, including Zaldumbide’s 23-month-old daughter.

Klesin, the man who initially supervised that investigation, had not only taken numerous gifts over an eight-year period from Con Ed, but he and Blaney also allowed a consultant for the utility to edit drafts of the report and make it appear more favorable to the energy provider, the inspector general’s report stated.

Klesin has since resigned and Blaney is under investigation. Releasing confidential documents can constitute a felony, according to the report, and the inspector general’s findings have been passed onto the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics, which did not respond to a request to comment by press time. The Con Ed consultant was not identified, but the utility said in a statement that it takes ethical violations seriously.

“We hold our contractors to the same high ethical standards as our employees and we expect those standards to be followed,” Con Ed said in a statement.

The same day Blaney received the report, the consultant for Con Ed e-mailed Klesin and demanded a copy of it, typing in large letters, “Where the **** is it!!!!!!!!”

As the report progressed through subsequent iterations, Klesin and Blaney repeatedly e-mailed copies to the consultant, who happened to be a former employee of the Public Service Department and Blaney’s former supervisor. The consultant would then return the report with detailed, and sometimes color-coded, edits and notations.

“How can you allow this to go to Albany?” he asked in one e-mail to Klesin, arguing that the report was biased against Con Ed.

In another instance, the consultant actually added in a paragraph to the conclusions section and said “it would be nice if we can get conclusion 4 in the report.”

That conclusion stated that while Con Ed failed to follow its own procedure, it did not contribute to the accident.

The explosion occurred in a Flushing apartment building after gas leaking out of Zaldumbide’s stove ignited.

Con Ed workers had been to the site less than an hour before the explosion to investigate a gas-like odor, according to the report.

The doctored report was never actually shown to the governing body responsible for imposing fines, although according to the inspector general, Klesin and Blaney were under the impression that the report would be used to decide Con Ed’s case.

Eventually, Con Ed settled with the explosion victim’s family for $20 million.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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