Tuesday, May 31, 2011

CONFIDENTIAL VILLARAIOGSA MEMO LEAKS: FBI seeks wider probe of Los Angeles building department (How CLOSE To The Mayor Will This Touch?)

FBI agents want to take their bribery investigation "as wide and as high as they can." (As "as high as they can", could be the mayor, I guess? Could "wide" be city councilmembers?)

In a confidential memo to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the department manager says federal agents are including supervisors in a bribery probe. The memo was sent by mistake to hundreds of other people.

The FBI probe into corruption at the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety has expanded beyond rank-and-file inspectors to include the supervisors who policed their work, according to the agency's top executive.

In a confidential May 10 memo to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, General Manager Robert "Bud" Ovrom said FBI agents want to take their bribery investigation "as wide and as high as they can." Because supervisors are included in the probe, city officials expect to determine if "illegal collaboration or poor supervisory skills" contributed to the misconduct, he wrote.

Two field inspectors have pleaded guilty to charges that they accepted bribes in exchange for building approvals. The city's failure to detect those activities may have been, at least in part, the product of staffing cuts at his agency, Ovrom said in his memo, a copy of which was obtained by The Times.

With high-level managers leaving as part of the city's early retirement program, the department was "not always providing adequate training" to their replacements, he wrote. "It is bad enough that these incidents happened," Ovrom said. "It is perhaps even worse that our supervisors never caught this blatant illegal activity."

The nine-page memo offers fresh details on the federal and city investigations and a rare insight into a city agency trying to manage a fast-growing scandal. The report was supposed to be confidential but was sent accidentally by Ovrom to hundreds of Building and Safety employees, The Times learned. [DOH!] The department declined to comment on the investigation.

In addition to the four employees who were either arrested or placed on leave, the department is looking at 10 more Building and Safety workers, Ovrom wrote. The federal grand jury has already instructed the department to turn over personnel records for 12 current and former employees, including Germain and Gonzalez.

According to an FBI affidavit filed in April, an informant told investigators that bribes were "systemic" at Building and Safety and described giving cash, building materials and even a vacation in exchange for city approvals. FBI agents launched a wiretap operation in August, sending an undercover agent to job sites to pose as "Manny Gonzalez," a construction contractor needing sign-offs from city inspectors.

In January, with the undercover sting operation in its sixth month, Building and Safety received an anonymous complaint about bribes at 52 construction sites, all of them in South Los Angeles.

The city's internal investigation began after the anonymous letter was received. It could expand, Ovrom wrote, to private contractors and land use consultants who have "an unusually high working relationship" with certain Building and Safety employees. "It takes two to tango," he wrote.

Read More (Full Story)

[ZD PUBLIC COMMENT REFLECTIONS: I remember the day, over a year ago, I said that ZD heard there was an FBI investigation into bribe taking at city hall...MAN...Council looked like they were watching a horror film, as ZD let that one loose on TV 35. Guess it was true. THANKS TO THE TIP! You just gained credibility with ZD!]

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