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

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

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.)

  • John Andrews

    When are they going to get to the City Councel and the Mayor??? Or are they going to be exempt from prosecution because they are Mexcican Politicians?

    • Politicians Are Too Political

      I don’t see that happening within our governing walls, John. To get Villaraigosa and his other losers out we as the voters must make sure that happens. 2012 is fast approaching…

  • http://losangelesforme.com/2011/06/3rd-la-building-official-fired-in-bribery-scandal-memo-calls-for-gps-tracking/ 3rd LA Building Official Fired In Bribery Scandal; Memo Calls For GPS Tracking | Los Angeles for Me

    […] In addition to a special investigator at a cost of $200,000, the department will also start tracking the location of inspectors via their cellphones. More from: http://losangeles.cbslocal.com… […]

  • Bad Kitty No Milk Tonight

    As a inspector in the past for a different city agency I can’t understand why these guys would be stupid enough to ask let alone take bribes and risk your job and pension over a few dollars. Its really dumb. During my time I was offered a bribe only once. It made me angry. The amount the bozo was trying to offer me would cover the simple remediations I wrote him up for. I read him the riot act. I value my career and doing something like taking bribes is just plain stupid and short sighted.

    • icecream

      That is called INTEGRITY.
      Mayor VivaLaRaza has no integrity.

  • geeM

    While Tony Villar tends treat his mayoral duties as a photo op, it’s unlikely he had anything to do with the hiring or monitoring of those bldg. inspectors. If he does open his mouth, you have to listen to annoying stuttering and stammering as he tries to make politically correct mishmash out of everything.
    Don’t forget that big builders and developers often get their way when someone tries to force them into compliance.

  • ginny

    It’s time for the Feds to come in and do a full sweep and find/deal with all of the fraud, bribry, etc. in this city. But of course, now that our worthless mayor has been elected to his new position nothing is going to happen.

  • Ron

    All developers that paid the bribes should be BANNED from all future projects and FINED enough to pay for the $639,000(just in the first year) cost now REQUIRED for the new GPS cellphones, data plans and special investigator.

    And all fired/guilty employees SHOULD lose their PENSIONS, but you know that won’t happen, if they are UNION members !!!!

  • http://phinvv.wordpress.com/2011/12/14/what-have-we-learned-from-the-hacla-scandal/ What Have We Learned from the HACLA Scandal? «

    […] HACLA, even years before the revelations of the SoCal Connected story, and in the wake of bribery scandals at Building and Safety, an attempt by the DWP in 2010 to withhold its revenue transfer to the city for $73 million based […]

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