9/21/2007: Alleged Fraud Closes Springfield Gardens Gym

Shirley L. Huntley

September 21, 2007

Shewanna Dill-Darby’s gym, Curves, was filled with women working out on July 19, when Department of Buildings officials walked in and asked to see building inspection documents.
It was then Dill-Darby learned the building’s temporary certificate of occupancy –– proof the building structure is suitable for the intended use –– was invalid.

The certificate was obtained by her contractor Satroghaun Singh, who allegedly forged an engineer’s signature on nearly 300 documents related to building plans, according to the Queens District Attorney. Singh, along with five other contractors and engineers, were recently charged with multiple counts of falsifying business documents and forgery on dozens of building projects in Queens.

As a result of Singh’s alleged fraud, Dill-Darby was handed a vacate order, and the gym was promptly closed.

At a press conference inside Curves at 129-01 Merrick Boulevard on Tuesday, Senator Shirley L. Huntley (D-Jamaica) and Assemblyman William Scarborough (D-Jamaica) reprimanded the buildings department.

"I’m really quite annoyed," said Senator Huntley. "The DOB knew in 2005 that the contractor she was using was illegal. They let him continue to build, and I think it’s a disgrace. She is now a victim of nonsense and red tape."

A few days after the vacate order was issued, Dill-Darby said she hired an engineer to conduct a true inspection of the building, in hopes of re-opening quicklyShe is now anxiously waiting for the buildings department to review the new documents. "My reputation is on the line," she said. "It looks as though my building can fall down." She added that 400 members belong to the gym and estimates she has lost 30 new memberships since the gym’s closure. "It’s a real tragic situation," she said. "My members are transferring to other gyms."

Most of her anger is with the buildings department for not stopping the alleged frauds sooner. According to Meris Campbell, a spokeswoman for the Queens District Attorney’s Office, the buildings department started an investigation in November 2005 before handing it over to the district attorney’s office and the Department of Investigation this month. The buildings department would not comment on how or when the alleged frauds were discovered.

Spokeswoman Kate Lindquist did say that about 20 percent of professionally-certified projects are audited, a procedure that will now increase. In addition, there will now be a greater screening of applications before plans are approved.

"The department is working hard with local leaders to tighten professional certification of plans and documents." Lindquist added that the department will meet with Dill-Darby in the next few days to discuss her situation. Until then, gym members like Charlene Black, who lives on 128th Avenue down the block from the gym, will have travel to another gym –– or wait."I’m not going to another Curves," she said after Thursday’s press conference. "I’m waiting for this to open. It’s very disappointing it got shut down." She hasn’t exercised in weeks, but will stay loyal to Dill-Darby. "It’s home," she said. "I’m not leaving it. This is family."