208 years for Mexican expert over quake-collapsed school

MEXICO CITY — A judge sentenced a Mexican building expert to 208 years in prison Wednesday for signing off on defective remodeling work blamed in the collapse of school that killed 27 people during a 2017 earthquake.

It was the longest sentence yet handed down in relation to the magnitude 7.1 quake of Sept. 19, 2017, though it is largely symbolic, because Mexico does not permit life imprisonment and limits sentences to 60 years.

City prosecutors said Juan Mario Velarde, the “responsible director” of the remodeling, was convicted of 26 counts of homicide. He is one of hundreds of private experts who are paid to oversee safety and standards on building sites.

In 2020, the owner and director of the private elementary school that collapsed in Mexico City was sentenced to 31 years in prison. That woman, Mónica García Villegas, was convicted of charges equivalent to manslaughter.

Much of the Enrique Rebsamen school fell, killing 19 students and seven adults, all employees of the school.

García Villegas was prosecuted because officials said her decision to improperly build an apartment atop part of the school contributed to its collapse.

As in other cases, authorities apparently failed to enforce building and operation regulations prior to the quake, which killed a total of 228 people in the capital and 141 others in nearby states.