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Fidel Padilla

Other Plea Cases with Inadequate Legal Defense
On January 16, 2012, F.G.C. Communications, Inc. was performing excavation work for a cable company when it ruptured a gas line, causing an explosion outside a residence at 52 Zarriello Lane, in West Haverstraw, New York. The residence was destroyed, a nearby residence was badly damaged, and four people—two firefighters and two employees of the gas utility—were injured. The damage was estimated at more than $1.6 million.

The Rockland County District Attorney began a criminal investigation of 53-year-old Fidel Padilla, the owner of FGC Communications, Inc.

Padilla claimed that before going to the site, he had called 811, a federally-designated “Call Before You Dig” number that is designed to prevent homeowners and professionals from damaging utility lines. Anyone who plans to dig for construction work is required to call the number before any digging or excavation so that utility workers can go to the location with spray paint and flags, and mark the location of gas and electrical lines.

Padilla said that he made the call and after a conversation with utility company officials, waited several days and then only dug in an area where there were no markers indicating the presence of gas lines.

Nonetheless, on May 18, 2012, following negotiations with Padilla’s attorney, Padilla pled guilty to a felony count of reckless endangerment. Padilla also entered a guilty plea to the same charge on behalf of his company.

Sentencing was set for June 27, 2012.

Prior to the sentencing, however, Padilla filed a motion to withdraw the guilty pleas after learning that the New York Public Service Commission, the state agency that oversees utilities, had cited the gas company, Orange and Rockland Utilities, for marking the wrong spot as the location of the gas line in response to Padilla’s 811 call. The citation was issued on May 11, 2012; one week before the guilty pleas. The citation was based on an investigative report prepared by commission investigators two months earlier. That investigative report said that in response to notification from Padilla, the utility began marking the location of gas and electric lines on January 4, 2012, but stopped before completion because of “multiple complaints from community residents about excess paint on the street.”

The utility then requested that Padilla “white mark” his company’s planned excavation area. Following a meeting with Padilla, the utility placed “two sets of two dots in the area to indicate the gas main and electric facilities on the street” and also marked the electric and gas service lines going to 52 Zarriello Lane. The state citation said, “When the contractor (Padilla) struck the gas main…they were over twenty feet outside and east of the dots.”

In the motion to withdraw the guilty pleas, Padilla claimed that he was coerced to plead guilty because the prosecutor threatened that if he did not plead guilty, the prosecutor would file charges that could result in his deportation. The prosecution did not disclose the Public Service Commission citation before Padilla’s guilty plea, and Padilla’s attorney had not discovered that the citation had been issued.

In January 2014, Rockland County Superior Court Judge Victor J. Alfieri, Jr., granted Padilla’s motion to withdraw his own guilty plea and that of his company. “The evidence adduced at the hearing, which lends some support to Padilla’s claims of innocence and coercion, coupled with Padilla’s continued assertion of innocence as well as his prompt request to withdraw his plea, all convince this Court that the interests of justice will be best served” by allowing Padilla to withdraw the guilty pleas, the judge said.

The judge then dismissed the charges. The state did not appeal the judge’s decision and did not refile charges against Padilla.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 6/14/2015
State:New York
Most Serious Crime:Other Nonviolent Felony
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2012
Sentence:Not sentenced
Age at the date of reported crime:53
Contributing Factors:Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No