L.A. building inspectors accepted up to 40 cash bribes and a vacation, informant tells FBI [Updated]
The details of the bribes are laid out by the confidential informant in an affidavit filed by FBI Special Agent Teresa L. Brand and led to the federal probe of two city building inspectors, Hugo Joel Gonzalez, 49, of Eagle Rock and Raoul Joseph Germain, 59, of Altadena. Gonzalez and Germain were arrested Friday in connection with the bribery allegations.
The informant, a work site supervisor for a residential property developer with 80 to 100 citywide projects each year, told Brand that in addition to cash bribes, inspectors also accepted materials and labor for their personal homes. In one case, the unnamed informant said he or she had paid for an inspector's vacation.
The informant "never refused to pay a bribe in connection with any such property, because acquiescence to bribe demands avoids delays in the construction inspection process and, at least with certain … inspectors, is the only way to pass inspections required in connection with residential construction projects," according to the affidavit. It is unclear how many inspectors were involved in the alleged activity.
Council members said Friday they want to know how widespread the allegations are. A spokesman for the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety said Friday that his agency has determined that homes at the center of the federal bribery case are safe.
"The department takes these matters, when they arise, very seriously and with zero tolerance," said department spokesman David Lara.
Gonzalez and Germain, who have each been charged with one count of federal bribery, made their first appearance in federal court Friday. If convicted, they each face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000, Assistant U.S. Atty. Joseph Akrotirianakis said. He declined to say whether he anticipates more arrests coming out of the investigation.
Germain was released on $100,000 bond, on the condition that he resolve an outstanding warrant on a traffic ticket. Gonzalez, whom the judge deemed to be a flight risk because of his frequent travel to Mexico, remains detained until trial.
Germain's attorney, Steven M. Cron, declined to comment after the hearing. The federal public defender representing Gonzalez could not be immediately reached for comment.
Germain joined the department in 2005 and earns just over $90,000 per year. Gonzalez was hired in 2006 and earns nearly $88,000 annually. Both men were assigned to inspect single-family homes, not commercial buildings or multi-story apartments, Lara said.
Both men were placed on paid administrative leave on Feb. 25, roughly a month after city officials got their own anonymous tip.
-- David Zahniser and Abigail Sewell
Photo: The FBI arrested Los Angeles City building inspector Raoul Joseph Germain on suspicion of accepting $6,000 in bribes in exchange for approvals of construction projects. Germain is shown accepting $1,500 in cash in a photograph taken by an undercover FBI agent, according to federal investigators.
Credit: U.S. Attorney's Office