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L.A. building department ordered to revive its internal investigations unit

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa calls for the change as a corruption probe into the department grows. Last month, FBI agents arrested two inspectors on suspicion of accepting bribes.

May 15, 2011|By David Zahniser, Los Angeles Times
  • Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, in a letter to the building department head, said he favors implementing a GPS tracking system for inspectors.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, in a letter to the building department head,… (Mario Anzuoni / Reuters )

Responding to a growing corruption probe, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has ordered the top executive at the Department of Building and Safety to resurrect an internal investigations unit that was dismantled a decade ago.

In a letter sent Friday, Villaraigosa told department General Manager Robert "Bud" Ovrom to conduct a performance audit of all "relevant" employees and reestablish an investigations unit to review complaints, audit inspections and guard against corruption.

That office was shut down in 1999 partly because of budget concerns, Deputy Mayor Sarah Sheahan said.

Villaraigosa's order comes more than a month after two inspectors were arrested by FBI agents on suspicion of accepting bribes. In an affidavit filed in that case, the FBI said a confidential informant told of giving inspectors as many as 40 bribes — not just money but also labor and materials.

That informant described such favors as "systemic" at the department.

Villaraigosa had a different take in his letter, saying he believed the vast majority of the city's 315 inspectors are "honorable men and women" looking to ensure the safety of the citizenry.

Villaraigosa also said in his letter that the department should implement a GPS tracking system for each inspector, an idea floated by Ovrom last month. The mayor also called for a review of training and standards for each department employee.

The Times reported this month that a federal grand jury has demanded personnel records on at least 11 current and former department employees. One of them, Raoul Germain, had already pleaded guilty to accepting bribes in exchange for building approvals.

The two inspectors the FBI arrested, one of whom was Germain, were fired this month. Two other department employees were placed on administrative leave, pending an investigation.

david.zahniser@latimes.com

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