boston.com News your connection to The Boston Globe

Brothers stand by accused firm

Company arraigned in '06 tunnel death

'We believe this is not a prosecution for justice,' said Jeffrey Powers (second from left), president of Powers Fasteners, with brothers (from left) Steve, Christopher, and Fred. The firm is the only company to face criminal charges in the ceiling collapse.
"We believe this is not a prosecution for justice," said Jeffrey Powers (second from left), president of Powers Fasteners, with brothers (from left) Steve, Christopher, and Fred. The firm is the only company to face criminal charges in the ceiling collapse. (Aram Boghosian for the Boston Globe)

In their dark suits, white shirts, and carefully combed hair, the Powers brothers stood out as they sat, shoulder to shoulder, in a Boston courtroom yesterday where jeans and T-shirts are far more common garb these days.

The four men own Powers Fasteners, the only company to face criminal charges in Attorney General Martha Coakley's investigation of the July 2006 Big Dig ceiling collapse that killed Milena Del Valle.

It is not a distinction that the Powers brothers are taking quietly - or alone. About a dozen employees, who call the brothers simply "The Boys," joined their bosses in Suffolk Superior Court yesterday.

Also in attendance, with his lawyer, Jeffrey Denner, was Del Valle's husband, Angel, who was driving through the Interstate 90 connector tunnel on July 10, 2006, when a piece of ceiling fell and killed his wife.

"I lost part of my life. My life has changed since all this happened. It's not the same," Angel Del Valle said in Spanish. "Since the beginning, I knew why my wife died. My wife died because of negligence."

But Jeffrey Powers insisted to reporters that the family's privately-held company was not responsible for the ceiling collapse, and he accused Coakley of abusing her authority by bringing an involuntary manslaughter charge against Powers Fasteners.

"We believe this is not a prosecution for justice," said Jeffrey Powers, president of the New York-based company, after lawyer Max D. Stern entered a not guilty plea on the company's behalf. "We believe that this is a persecution of an innocent company for both political and financial gain."

He said Coakley has singled out Powers because it is small and located outside Massachusetts. "I think the attorney general knows well that Powers is blameless," he said.

In a statement released by her office, Coakley rejected Jeffrey Powers's criticism. "To suggest that the prosecution of Powers Fasteners is motivated by anything other than the pursuit of justice, not only for the victims, but for the Commonwealth as a whole, is inaccurate," she said.

In court papers, Special Assistant Attorney General Paul F. Ware Jr. alleged that Powers should have alerted Big Dig contractors that one of the two types of glue the company supplied to the project should not have been used to hold up ceiling panels in the tunnel.

Prosecutors argued that the company should have made clear to Big Dig managers or contractors that only one of its two types of glue was suitable to secure the panels.

In a recent report, the National Transportation Safety Board made a similar finding, saying Powers should have made clear to customers that its fast-drying epoxy should not be used to support ceilings after Powers officials were asked to find out why Big Dig bolts were coming loose in 1999.

Among the dozen Powers employees who drove from Brewster, N.Y., to Boston yesterday morning was Bob Tortu, a plant manager who has worked for the company for more than 30 years.

"We're pretty much in shock at the whole thing. We've never done anything wrong," he said. "We are a small company. We work hard and we hope we get exonerated."

Maria Cramer of the Globe staff contributed to this report. John Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com.

More from Boston.com

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES