Sean Benschop, 42, has used several aliases, had numerous run-ins with law enforcement and is not a U.S. citizen, according to Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Selber. Benschop, who was born in Guyana, also has contacts in New York and New Jersey, she said.
“All of these things can make a person more difficult to track if they are released,” Selber said after the hearing.
But attorney Daine Grey countered that his client, a married father of four, turned himself in after police issued an arrest warrant after the June 5 collapse in Philadelphia. Benschop has not been convicted of a crime since a marijuana-related drug case in 1995, Grey said.
Authorities say Benschop was impaired by marijuana and painkillers while operating heavy equipment on a vacant building under demolition. A four-story brick wall collapsed onto the adjacent Salvation Army thrift shop, killing six people and injuring 13.
Benschop was charged with six counts of involuntary manslaughter, for which he was originally not granted bail, and 13 counts of reckless endangerment, for which bail had been set at $650,000.
On Wednesday, Common Pleas Court Judge James DeLeon set bail at $900,000 for the manslaughter charges. Benschop will have to post 10 percent of the nearly $1.6 million total to be released.
His immigration status was not immediately clear. Selber declined to answer related questions; Grey would disclose only that Benschop does not have a passport.
The court proceeding was originally supposed to determine whether prosecutors had enough evidence to put Benschop on trial. However, the judge postponed that part of the hearing until Sept. 17.
Afterward, Grey said he asked for a delay because of the ongoing investigation.
“The fact that (Benschop) was arrested and charged with causing the collapse, when the experts are still trying to determine the cause of the collapse, to me is ridiculous,” Grey said.
He called Benschop an “upstanding business owner” who is being scapegoated for the tragedy. A grand jury is investigating whether other parties should be held responsible.