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NOLA Inspectors Face Charges in Wider City Problem

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

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The owner of a New Orleans private building inspection company, along with the former top building inspector for the city government, faced arrest at the end of last week on charges that they fabricated safety inspections for a local contractor.

Randy Farrell, owner of IECI & Associates, and Larry Chan, an IECI inspector who was in charge of City Hall's inspectors until 2019, reportedly surrendered to the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office. The two also deny the falsification charges and maintain that they found the contractor to have improper permits.

What Happened

Investigators suspect the pair of signing false inspection reports dated in April 2020 to approve a home addition by general contractor Ron Jouandot II (who is also facing a warrant and is accused of fraud, working without a permit, working outside the terms of his license and falsifying inspection records). Farrell and Chan are officially accused of filing false statements into official government records, obstruction of justice for providing the records in response to a court order and accessory to contractor fraud.

According to Farrell and Chan, Jouandot called IECI for a final inspection on the addition project. However, upon inspection they discovered that Jouandot was missing necessary permits for work that he already performed.

ferrantraite / Getty Images

The owner of a New Orleans private building inspection company, along with the former top building inspector for the city government, faced arrest at the end of last week on charges that they fabricated safety inspections for a local contractor.

While the pair note that they rarely file failed inspection reports—and instead give contractor opportunities to fix whatever problems arise—they fully deny that the inspection was false.

We have photos of us there and everything. These are not falsified records. This should have been a civil case between the homeowner and the contractor,” Farrell said.

While officials acknowledged that photos were filed with an inspection report, they say that that doesn’t prove that the pair showed up for all the inspections that they claim to have done.

“Mr. Farrell values his reputation and this community and would never jeopardize his career by doing anything unethical or illegal,” said Julie Quinn-Summerville, a former state legislator and the attorney for both Farrell and Chan. “He has been a vocal advocate in rooting out corruption in a neighboring parish’s department of code enforcement, and he is eager to prove that he has never violated any rule, regulation or law. … Mr. Chan’s number one focus is, and has always been, safety, and he stands by his work and his inspection at this property.”

Jouandot has not commented on the charges.

A Bigger Problem

Even if the inspection is found not to be falsified in this instance, WWL-TV (a local NBC affiliate) has raised multiple questions about the oversight of private city inspectors in its “Hidden Dangers” investigative series.

WWL says it has reviewed 15 months of NOLA inspection data, and found that “thousands of third-party inspections, IECI and other private companies had never submitted a single failed inspection.” Private third-party inspectors perform the majority of inspections on behalf of local governments surrounding the city.

The station has also looked at NOLA’s city vehicle tracking data to show the work of the city’s in-house inspectors, who were under Chan’s direction until 2019. This data showed that inspectors failed to show up at more than one-third of the inspections they claimed to have performed.

Chan was suspended from the city department on Sept. 16, 2019, because he had reportedly been implicated in an ongoing criminal investigation of the permitting office. Earlier that same day, Chan held a meeting with city inspectors warning them that they were being tracked. Soon after that, Chan retired from the city.

About a month later, the NOLA Hard Rock Hotel project collapsed.

NOLA Hard Rock

Around 9 a.m. on Oct. 12, part of the Hard Rock Hotel building gave way, resulting in a partial collapse of the structure, with more than 30 injuries and three worker fatalities. Project officials have reported that initial damages were caused by the collapse of floors six through eight, which resulted in additional damage spread throughout a large portion of the building.

In February 2020, WWLT reported that inspectors Julie Tweeter and Eric Treadaway were suspended for 30 days without pay for submitting reports that said they had inspected several projects (including the Hard Rock) despite GPS data that failed to locate them at the premises during the time the reports claimed.

Investigative reporter David Hammer also noted that he had a recording of a meeting among inspectors and building officials that allegedly captured field inspectors being chastised for filing false reports.

One of the alleged falsified reports was from Tweeter, in which she “approved” the work prior to crews pouring concrete on the top floors.

In addition to the falsifications, the Advocate reported that several inspectors that were approving work were not properly licensed. Tweeter, for example, had allegedly inspected the Hard Rock at least four times before she obtained her commercial building inspector’s license.

A month later, it was reported that Treadaway left his position with the city, ending any disciplinary investigation against him.

   

Tagged categories: Government; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Inspection; Lawsuits; NA; North America; Regulations; Safety

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