By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
When Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa gave Robert "Bud" Ovrom, his deputy for economic development, the task of cleaning up the Department of Building and Safety after general manager Andrew Adelman was forced out amidst accusations of grotesque sexual abuse, Ovrom was wary.
Ovrom, the former Burbank city manager credited with guiding its economic turnaround, says he immediately probed Building and Safety for skeletons.
"Everybody I talked to said there were no corruption problems in the department," Ovrom tells L.A. Weekly. "Not one person told me there were ethical or corruption problems."
But just how hard Ovrom pressed Adelman's top supervisors — men accustomed to running the big department their own way — is an open question.
A cloud hung over the Villaraigosa administration as police investigated the ousted Adelman, who made headlines in August 2009, when a city consultant alleged that Adelman had raped her with objects in a bizarre sex den at his condo. The district attorney declined to file charges.
A few months later, Ovrom, Adelman's replacement, issued a performance evaluation showing that despite serious operational flaws, the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety was sound. He subtitled it "Making a Good Department Even Better."
But one year after that report, in April 2011, the FBI arrested two Building and Safety inspectors in South Los Angeles, Hugo Gonzalez and Raoul Germain, for taking bribes. The department had missed the graft but had put the men on leave and planned to fire them for poor performance. Both are in prison today.
Now, the FBI is investigating Building and Safety inspector Samuel In, who operated mostly in Koreatown. Last May, he abruptly retired just two days after being placed on administrative leave — and six years after a Building and Safety inspector told his supervisors that In tried to tempt him into a cash-based corruption scam.
Ovrom, who earns $218,363 a year, tells the Weekly that corruption on the part of Gonzalez and Germain was simply "a failure of supervision."
But after a four-month probe into the Samuel In case, the Weekly has found a persistent pattern of questionable conduct and contradictory claims by Building and Safety brass when it comes to corruption. Last week, the Los Angeles Times reported that the grand jury has requested the department's files on In.
High-ranking Building and Safety personnel allowed In to work for years after Greg Glover, an alleged eyewitness and co-worker, reported him for corruption. And now the department is making contradictory claims about how it handled whistle-blower Glover — and about what it was doing to ferret out corruption before the FBI finally stepped in last April.
The autocratic Andrew Adelman created a powerful city department badly lacking in modern anticorruption controls. Ovrom himself admits that some employees went without evaluation for four-year stretches, and that staff rotations designed to halt graft were all but halted. Critics seemed prescient in May 2011, when, following the Gonzalez and Germain arrests, the FBI subpoenaed the records of 10 other Building and Safety employees, including Samuel In.
Ovrom put In on administrative leave last May 4. He retired two days later — with a full city pension of $72,444 a year. He was not at his Glendale home when the Weekly tried to interview him, but he has told the L.A. Times he did nothing wrong.
That's not what former Building and Safety inspector Greg Glover says.
In an interview with L.A. Weekly, Glover says he promptly reported to his Building and Safety supervisors in what he thinks was 2005 that In had offered Glover a fat envelope of cash, saying: "We would really like you to be working with us."
Glover, who left the department in 2010, says In had approached him at a job site on Crenshaw Boulevard and asked Glover to join him at the Rotex Hotel on Olympic Boulevard for a quick meeting. Glover says that In, a Korean-speaking inspector, had previously tried to hinder him from giving citations to nonpermitted construction in Koreatown.
Over tea, Glover says, In slid a cash-stuffed envelope across the table.
Glover tells the Weekly he was disgusted and responded, "Sam, I have a job, same as you. We work for the Department of Building and Safety for the City of Los Angeles." Then, Glover says, he pushed the envelope of cash back to In with his fingernail.
Glover immediately reported the incident, and was called in to meet personally with Building and Safety supervisors, including Bob Steinbach. Six years later, as one of his first housecleaning acts at Building and Safety, Ovrom appointed Steinbach to head the Inspection Bureau.
Glover tells the Weekly that Steinbach brushed him off in 2005, saying they had investigated In for other incidents and found no evidence against him. "We have nothing," Glover recalls Steinbach saying. "Thank you for your concern."
Glover said Steinbach then dismissed him with a curt handshake.
The implicit message, Glover says, was, "Never say a damn thing again, we don't want to hear from you. We already know about this. Get up, get the hell out of here. Shut the fuck up."
When Gonzalez and Germain were arrested April 8, 2011, Glover, who was no longer at Building and Safety, read the news reports in consternation. He called the FBI hotline to report the cash-stuffed envelope incident. On April 26, he emailed Ovrom to inform him that he had complained to the FBI.
This is how incompetent our public official are. They just want the high salary but does nothing. We just pay people to retire with no work needed.
BUD OVROM IS STILL FOOLING THE PUBLIC. NOTICE IN THE FOLLOWING LIST, THERE IS NOT A SINGLE RESIDENT ON ISSUES THAT AFFECT THE COMMUNITY'S QUALITY OF LIFE. IT IS TIME HE IS FORCED TO RETIRE.
From: Bud Ovrom [mailto:LADBS.Newsletter@lacity.org] Sent: Friday, February 10, 2012 2:59 PM
Subject: Good News from LADBS!
Listening to our Customers
Development Industry Advisory Committee (DIAC) Deputy Mayor, Matt Karatz, at DIAC meeting. During the development reform strategic planning phase, the Mayor established the Development Reform Advisory Committee (DRAC) in order to provide direct industry input to the process. To ensure on-going private sector involvement after the strategic plan was adopted, the Mayor directed that the City formally continue DRAC’s mission via the formation of the Development Industry Advisory Committee (DIAC).The Committee consists of 12 members who are carefully selected to represent small and large developers, commercial and residential builders, architects, engineers, transportation specialists, land use lawyers and consultants.DIAC meets once a month to provide private sector input on development-related issues and serves as a sounding board for process improvement proposals.The current members of DIAC are:•Daniel Gryczman, Chair – Regent Properties•Allyn Rifkin –Rifkin Transportation Planning Group•Ann Sewill – Community Foundation Land Trust•Arpy Hatzikian – Gensler Architects•Arturo Sneider – Primestor Development Inc.•Cindy Starrett – Latham & Watkins•Chris Joseph – CAJA Environmental Services•Renata Simril – Jones Lang LaSalle•Rick Davis – KPFF Engineering•Shawn Evenhaim – California Home Builders•Tina Choi – Englander Knabe & Allen•Veronica Becerra – RA Build Commercial LLCIf you would like to bring any suggestions or criticisms directly to DIAC, you are encouraged to contact the Committee Chairperson at:dgryczman@regentproperties.....
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