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L.A. building officials fire employee under scrutiny in bribery probe

June 23, 2011 | 11:16 am

A Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety employee under scrutiny during an internal investigation into bribe-taking has lost his job, officials said Thursday.

Frank Rojas, 47, was fired on June 16 but has filed an appeal with the city's Civil Service Commission, the panel that hears challenges to such disciplinary actions at City Hall, said Maggie Whelan, general manager of the city's Personnel Department.

Whelan did not give the reason for the firing and Rojas has not responded to requests for comment. But an internal memo sent by the top official at Building and Safety said Rojas was put on leave last month as a result of a department investigation of allegations that cash was provided in exchange for building permits.

Rojas is the fourth employee at the department to face termination since the start of the internal review in January, which has been occurring at the same time as an FBI corruption probe into bribes for permits.

Rojas was hired in 1988 and earned more than $93,000 annually as a plan check engineer in the department's West Los Angeles office. Personnel officials confirmed the firing one day after department spokesman David Lara said the city had fired Albert Acosta, 54, who they determined had taken bribes from contractors while on duty.

The FBI launched a sting operation in August, with an undercover agent and a confidential informant secretly taping two other inspectors as they demanded cash in exchange for building approvals, according to federal affidavits. Those employees, Hugo Gonzalez of Eagle Rock and Raoul Germain of Altadena, both pleaded guilty to federal bribery charges. Both were fired.

As part of the investigation, one informant told the FBI that bribes were "systemic" at the building department. The informant described giving as many as 40 bribes, including cash, building materials and even free labor, the affidavits said.

Six months later, city building officials received an anonymous complaint about bribes at 52 construction sites, all of them in South Los Angeles. That complaint prompted the city to begin its internal review. In April, a federal grand jury sent a subpoena to the Department of Building and Safety demanding records on 12 employees, including Gonzalez, Germain and Acosta.


L.A. city building inspector pleads guilty to taking bribes

Second L.A. building inspector to plead guilty to taking bribes 

Third L.A. building inspector is fired in corruption probe 

-- David Zahniser at Los Angeles City Hall