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Villaraigosa to revive internal investigations unit at building department amid corruption probe

May 13, 2011 |  6:15 pm

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 due to budget concerns, said Deputy Mayor Sarah Sheahan.

Villaraigosa's order comes more than a month after two inspectors were arrested by the FBI 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 inspector 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 first floated by Ovrom last month. The mayor also called for a review of training and standards for each department employee.

The Times reported last week that the FBI has demanded personnel records for at least 11 current and former department employees. One of those employees, Raoul Germain, already has pleaded guilty to accepting bribes in exchange for building approvals.

In addition to the two men who were arrested, two other employees were placed on administrative leave last week, pending an investigation.


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-- David Zahniser