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Salvation Army To Be Named In Center City Collapse Lawsuits

By Pat Loeb

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- An attorney for victims of last June's fatal building collapse in center city Philadelphia (see related story) says he plans to add the Salvation Army as a defendant in the lawsuit they have filed.

Citing e-mails that show the charity was warned of unsafe conditions at its thrift store at 22nd and Market Streets because of a building demolition next door, attorney Robert Mongeluzzi notes the building subsequently collapsed into the thrift store on June 5th, killing six people and injuring 13.

Mongeluzzi discussed the e-mails this morning at a news conference, in which he also promised to vigorously oppose a motion to delay civil cases related to the collapse for at least nine months while a grand jury investigates possible criminal charges.

"The Salvation Army was warned on multiple occasions that there was a risk to life and limb, that there could be an uncontrolled collapse," Mongeluzzi says.

Philadelphia's city solicitor last month released the e-mails exchanged between a property manager for building owner Richard Basciano's company, STB Investments, and the Salvation Army's Maj. Charles Deitrick (see related story).

Mongeluzzi describes the back-and-forth that went on from last February through May 22nd as "a game of chicken."

"Till I saw the proof, I didn't sue the Salvation Army," says Mongeluzzi, "but having seen these e-mails, these e-mails are devastating in terms of what the Salvation Army knew and what they hid from their customers and their employees."

The Salvation Army did not respond to several requests for comment.

Mongeluzzi initially sued Basciano and other defendants, including Griffin Campbell, CEO of the company hired to demolish Basciano's building.

Yesterday, Campbell's attorney, Theodore Schaer, asked for a stay of all the lawsuits in which Campbell is a defendant, saying his Fifth Amendment rights in the criminal case would be jeopardized if he were forced to testify in the civil case.

Mongeluzzi says it could end up delaying the case far longer than nine months.

"One of the first things I learned in law school was, 'Justice delayed is justice denied,' " Mongeluzzi said today.

But Schaer says Campbell has a right to justice, too.

"The filing of these motions was meant to provide Mr. Campbell with the same rights as each and every one of the victims has," he said.

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