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Former building inspector accused in federal bribery case

February 6, 2013 |  7:13 pm

The U.S. attorney's office filed a bribery charge against a former inspector at the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety on Wednesday, making him the third employee of the agency to face criminal prosecution in two years.

Samuel In, 65, agreed to plead guilty to a single count of felony bribery stemming from a 2008 incident in which he accepted $5,000 in cash from a Koreatown businessman, according to documents filed in federal court.

As part of his plea agreement, In admitted accepting more than $30,000 worth of bribes involving at least a dozen properties that he handled in his official capacity between March 2007 and December 2010, Assistant U.S. Atty. Joseph Akrotirianakis said. All were in or around Koreatown.

The plea agreement depicts In, who was fluent in Korean, as someone who took advantage of a businessman whose own limited language ability made it hard for him to navigate the city’s permitting process. In has "admitted that he used his official position to solicit monetary payments from people who had limited abilities in speaking English,” Akrotirianakis said.

If convicted, In could receive up to 10 years in prison and be fined $250,000.The case comes three years after the FBI launched an undercover sting operation into bribes given in exchange for building permits. Two department employees pleaded guilty to federal bribery charges in 2011 and were sentenced to prison. At least two others have been fired in the wake of the probe, although one is fighting his termination, city officials said.

While working as a senior inspector, In solicited bribes from a businessman identified only as T.C., according to paperwork filed by prosecutors. T.C. had difficulty speaking English and conferred with In as he sought city permission to convert an office on Vermont Avenue into a retail store, Akrotirianakis said.

In, a 37-year employee of Building and Safety, demanded consulting fees from T.C. and told him that if payments were made by check, the payee part of the check should be left blank, according to the plea agreement. The senior inspector also told T.C. that checks written to the Department of Building and Safety “would not be useful,” according to the document. T.C. ultimately paid cash.

After the payments were made, T.C. succeeded in convincing In to put his initials on a receipt showing that he had received $5,000 in fees between May and December 2008, according to prosecutors.

In, a resident of Glendale, retired in May 2011. He left his job two days after Building and safety General Manager Robert “Bud” Ovrom put him on administrative leave as part of the agency’s own internal investigation into allegations of wrongdoing.

Attorney Harold Greenberg, who represents In, did not immediately comment. In previously told The Times that he did not take bribes or commit wrongdoing. “I always sleep with peace,” he said last year when asked about the investigation.

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-- David Zahniser at Los Angeles City Hall

twitter.com/davidzahniser

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