LOS ANGELES, Calif.–Two Los Angeles building inspectors were arrested this morning on federal bribery charges for allegedly taking thousands of dollars to approve work at residential construction sites in South Los Angeles without inspecting the sites.
Hugo Joel Gonzalez, 49, of Eagle Rock, who allegedly accepted $9,000 in bribes from an informant and an undercover agent; and Raoul Joseph Germain, 59, of Altadena, who allegedly accepted $6,000 in bribes from the undercover agent, were arrested by special agents with the FBI, prosecutors said.
“Corruption by any official further corrodes public confidence,” said U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. “In this case, two government employees directly threatened an important public safety mission by exploiting their positions to line their own pockets.”
According to criminal complaints filed Thursday in Los Angeles federal court, the FBI began an undercover investigation of the inspectors last summer after an informant reported that city of Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety inspectors took cash bribes in exchange for permit approvals on residential construction projects.
The informant, described in court documents as a work site supervisor for a residential property developer, reported that building inspectors, including Gonzalez and Germain, accepted bribes at the initial inspection stage of construction at residential properties, and that the bribes covered all
construction inspections related to that property, including final inspection, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The affidavit in support of the case against Gonzalez describes how the informant, and then an undercover agent posing as a residential construction contractor, gave cash bribes to Gonzalez beginning last summer.
During a meeting in late August, in which the first documented bribe was made, Gonzalez signed inspection cards for two properties and told the informant the he was giving the informant “preferential treatment,” prosecutors allege.
According to court documents filed in the second case, Germain allegedly said in a recorded conversation with the undercover agent, “I drive by every once in a while, take a look, I won’t even stop and get off.”
The affidavit in Germain’s case describes four $1,500 bribe payments that resulted in Germain signing inspection forms for four houses, even though he never set foot on two of the properties, prosecutors said.
David Lara of the city’s Department of Building and Safety said a second investigation by the City Attorney’s Office was under way.
“Allegations of corruption breech the public trust on many levels, and evidence in this case highlights the ease with which the defendants accepted bribes, while abdicating the duties honest taxpayers entrusted them to carry out on their behalf,” said Steven Martinez, assistant director in charge of the FBI in Los Angeles.
“Today’s arrests should be a warning to others looking to line their pockets through illicit transactions at the expense of the city and its residents,” he said.
The inspectors were expected to make their first court appearance today, prosecutors said.