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3rd LA Building Official Fired In Bribery Scandal; Memo Calls For GPS Tracking

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LOS ANGELES (CBS) — A third employee was fired for soliciting bribes from contractors in a widening scandal at the Department of Building and Safety, officials said Wednesday.

The employee was terminated Friday, the department’s David Lara told reporters, but Lara declined to comment on the specifics of the termination.

Lara also said a second employee is “no longer with the department effective June 16.”

The latest firing comes the same day Councilman Dennis Zine called the head of the Department of Building and Safety to appear before the council Audits and Governmental Affairs committee.

Zine said he wants to know what General Manager Robert “Bud” Ovrom is doing to reform his department after two building inspectors pleaded guilty in May to accepting bribes for signing off on inspections that never happened.

Two other inspectors were placed on administrative leave in recent months, with one retiring.

The FBI began an undercover investigation into the department last year, which has grown to include 14 building and safety workers and supervisors, the Los Angeles Times reported in late May.

“I want to know how deep the situation goes within the department,” Zine said. “If the whole barrel is corrupt, then we’ve got a serious problem. There’s substantial wrongdoing and it’s of great concern to me. Since those inspectors sign off on buildings, people’s lives could be at risk.”

Zine introduced a motion Wednesday directing Ovrom to report to the Audits and Governmental Efficiency Committee about a proposed internal performance audit and key management changes to address oversight problems in the department.

Zine said the hearings are necessary because the two inspectors charged with crimes pleaded guilty and will not go to trial.

“When you don’t go to trial, a lot of the information the public would be privy to doesn’t come out,” Zine said.

In a recent memo to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa obtained by City News Service, Ovrom told Villaraigosa he is “moving swiftly and aggressively to implement measures” called for by the mayor.

Ovrom said he is establishing an internal investigations unit of attorneys or others “experienced in conducting complex investigations of criminal and personnel matters.

That unit will be headed by a special investigator who will cost the city an estimated $200,000.

Ovrom said he is conducting a department-wide performance audit of about 460 inspectors and engineers in the Inspection, Code Enforcement and Engineering bureaus.

A GPS tracking system will also be implemented that would track the location of inspectors via their cellphones. The department will swap out old cellphones for advanced phones with GPS data supported devices.

The new phones will come at an initial cost of at least $239,000 and a future annual cost for the data plans of close to $200,000. Ovrom said he expects to have the system up and running by the end of the year.

Ovrom also pledged to tighten hiring standards and recurring evaluations in his personnel department, including a review of “new media as additional tools to assist in employment background
checks.”

Ovrom said he is also discussing the possibility of requiring inspectors and engineers to file Form 700 Statement of Economic Interest.

Lara said he expects to be before the council’s audit committee Tuesday.

Zine introduced two related motions today, one seeking options for legal recourse against the developers that offered the bribes and another that bars developers from receiving new permits if they have any standing zoning violations.

Lara said he was unsure how many contractors or developers might have been on the offering end of bribes accepted by building inspectors.

“We will clean house,” Zine said. “I have zero tolerance for corruption.”

(©2011 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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