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Owners Of Building Where Firefighters Died Charged With Criminal Contempt

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75th Street Fire

Two firefighters were killed and 14 more were injured while fighting a fire at 1744 E. 75th St. (Credit: CBS)

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UPDATED 12/21/11 5:21 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — The owners of the South Side laundry where two Chicago firefighters died a year ago, are now facing criminal charges.

As WBBM Newsradio’s Steve Miller reports, prosecutors announced the move at a news conference Wednesday morning.

Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez says on the eve of the first anniversary of the deadly fire, she has filed charges of criminal contempt against the owners of the building.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Steve Miller reports

Chuck and Richard Dai are accused of failing to comply with court orders to repair and secure the property at 1744 E. 75th St., which had once housed the Banner Laundromat and Dry Cleaners, but was long vacant when the fire broke out.

“He didn’t go there and he didn’t do what he was supposed to do and he totally disregarded the order,” Alvarez said.

The city’s Law Department filed a complaint about the property in Cook County Housing Court in 2007. While the case was pending, there were seven inspections.

The most recent time city inspectors looked at the building, they found 14 code violations and said the Dais had failed to maintain it “in a structurally safe and stable condition.”

Among the violations found were that the roof and roof trusses were rotting, had holes and were leaking. Dai was cited for two code violations for failure “to maintain roof in sound condition and repair.”

Dai also failed to show up for numerous court dates and was fined more than $14,000 for failing to fix the problems, officials said.

In October 2009, Chuck Dai signed a court order and agreed to pay a $1,000 dollar fine, obtain a structural engineer’s report, submit plans and apply for permits, and either make repairs or sell the building by November of this year.

But Alvarez said, “On the date of the fatal fire, Mr. Dai had still failed to make the required repairs and the building was unsecured when the fire was set.”

“We’re also seeking to send an important message to property owners … to remind them that they have legal, as well as civic responsibility to maintain their property in a safe and responsible fashion,” Alvarez added.

Gene Murphy, the building owner’s attorney, said prosecutors cannot prove their case.

“The government, with all their good intentions, does not have any evidence that … would lead any reasonable person to believe that my client willfully violated any court order at any time,” Murphy said.

It was believed that squatters had moved into the building and set fire to wood or garbage inside on Dec. 22, 2010. The fire went on to ignite the entire building.

Firefighters Edward Stringer, 47, and Corey Ankum, 34, were killed when a crumbling wooden trust roof collapsed on top of them.

The Dais also face a civil lawsuit filed by Stringer’s family.

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