Inspector's acts point to more conflict Tangled relationship with contractors seen in practices

Questionable permits

Housing officials concede system has poor controls

March 17, 1996|By JoAnna Daemmrich and Jim Haner | JoAnna Daemmrich and Jim Haner,SUN STAFF

A veteran city inspector who enforces Baltimore's electrical code has issued building permits to contractors who employ his son, has done work on the side for two contracting firms and has accepted cash for shortcutting the permits and inspections process.

Leon A. Peters, an electrical inspector since 1974, has also signed off on building permits peppered with erroneous and misleading information. At least five contractors whose names were used in the documents say they never authorized the permits or did any of the described work.

Mr. Peters' practices reveal a permitting system that city officials now admit has poor controls and lacks the protections commonly required elsewhere in Maryland.

In its continuing review of Baltimore's housing administration, The Sun has found missing safeguards in the process designed to make sure that construction work is properly done as well as to protect tax dollars earmarked for public construction projects.

"Every time there is an electrical fire in this town, you say, 'Dear God, please don't let my name turn up on that permit,' because in Baltimore you just never know who's using your name and license number," said Edgar Davis, a master electrician with more than three decades of experience. "It's been that way for years."

Mr. Peters already under internal investigation for helping a local builder win a state contract refused repeated requests for an interview over the past week to discuss the questionable permits and allegations by contractors.

"I don't know who these people are," he said on Friday. "It might be better for me not to have anything to say."

The revelations follow recent disclosures that at least five housing department employees were permitted to own rundown rental properties for years with little or no action by their agency.

One of them is Mr. Peters, 51, who is paid $38,819 a year to oversee electrical inspections in the same west side neighborhood where he owns a substandard apartment building.

In recent weeks, his name has surfaced on a string of misleading building permits.

A long-standing practice

Two plumbers, two electricians and a general contractor said their names and licenses were used on the permits without their knowledge. Three admitted it's not the first time. In Baltimore, they said, there is a long-standing practice among contractors, licensed and unlicensed, of falsifying permits.

A review of more than 200 pages of documents and interviews with a dozen contractors and other sources show:

Mr. Peters signed off on electrical designs and permit applications for two contractors who employ his 19-year-old son an unlicensed electrical apprentice and approved work done by his son at least once.

He has taken small payments as "tips," including on one occasion a check, from two contractors in exchange for such favors as hand delivering permits and expediting inspections. Contractors say such "bonuses" are paid to speed up backlogged permits and inspections.

Mr. Peters did electrical work for a contractor he regulates and represented another local construction company in talks with state officials over a $125,662 government contract.

One example of Mr. Peters' tangled relationships with contractors played out in the basement of 74-year-old Martha Taylor's tidy rowhouse at 2040 Braddish Ave. in West Baltimore.

City repair program

Two years ago, Mrs. Taylor needed to replace her old coal furnace and turned to a federally financed city repair program for help.

She picked James Robinson, owner of a Columbia home improvement company, to do the work "because he talked about going to church," she said. "I really believe he's a good Christian man, and I liked him."

In drawing Permit 23552 to replace the furnace, Mr. Robinson listed Edgar Davis as his electrician and Larry Ross as his plumber.

But Mr. Davis said he hasn't been actively doing electrical work ++ for more than a year after suffering a stroke and heart attack.

Rather, he was turning the jobs over to two assistants.

One of them was Alvin Peters son of the inspector who signed the permit for the job on Nov. 29, 1994.

And the plumber, Mr. Ross, said he didn't know his name was on the permit until about three weeks ago, when a city inspector called after the gas furnace shut down and left Mrs. Taylor with no heat.

Furnace installed backward

On Feb. 19, inspectors for Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. turned off the gas and tagged the furnace as dangerous because it was installed backward, with an incorrect venting pipe, the wrong valve and other deficiencies.

In an interview, Mr. Robinson the general contractor said it was Leon Peters who advised him to use Mr. Ross' name after Mr. Robinson discovered that the plumber on the job didn't have a license to hook up gas lines.

"I didn't forge anything, nothing of the sort," Mr. Robinson said, adding that "yeah, it was Leon" who told him to use Mr. Ross' name.

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