Inspector suspended after ties disclosed Housing chief says he will make probe 'highest priority'

March 19, 1996|By JoAnna Daemmrich and Jim Haner | JoAnna Daemmrich and Jim Haner,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Kate Shatzkin contributed to this article.

A senior Baltimore building inspector was suspended without pay yesterday after disclosures that he has unusually close ties with the construction companies he regulates.

Leon A. Peters, a supervisor of electrical inspections, was put on indefinite leave after disclosures that he had worked on the side for two contractors and had taken cash payments from others. The city also asked for an immediate investigation by the state's attorney.

On Sunday, The Sun reported that Mr. Peters had issued building permits to contractors who employ his son, had accepted cash "tips" for shortcutting the building and inspections process, and had signed off on documents peppered with erroneous and misleading information.

At least five contractors whose names were used on the questionable permits said they knew nothing of the documents or the described work. One home repair contractor also said he took out a permit using the name and license of a plumber after being told to do so by Mr. Peters.

The criminal investigation is expected to heighten the scrutiny of poor controls and lax protections in the way Baltimore enforces its building and construction codes. Unlike elsewhere in Maryland, general contractors can take out permits in the city and do work without assuring that their subcontractors have the necessary experience and licenses.

Baltimore housing chief Daniel P. Henson III, who took the action against Mr. Peters yesterday, said he would make the matter his "highest priority."

"In cooperation with the state's attorney's office, we will do everything possible to identify the problem fully and take whatever corrective actions are needed," Mr. Henson said in a prepared statement. "Individuals who abuse the public's trust must be identified and dealt with swiftly."

Mr. Henson said he suspended Mr. Peters in part after confirming that the inspector had represented a local builder whom he helped win a $125,662 state contract at construction talks while he was supposed to be working for the city.

Earlier this month, Mr. Henson began an internal inquiry into disclosures of Mr. Peters' work for Journeyman General Contractors. At the time, Mr. Peters said he only offered friendly advice to help the company win the state construction work. It turned out that Mr. Peters was representing Journeyman at state meetings while on the city's clock.

The disciplinary action against Mr. Peters follows reports that he was among at least five housing officials who own substandard rental properties in the city.

An inspector since 1974, Mr. Peters, 51, is paid $38,819 a year to enforce Baltimore's electrical code and oversee inspections on the city's west side.

In its report Sunday, The Sun also found that Mr. Peters had 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.

A plumber and an electrician told The Sun that they had given Mr. Peters cash "tips" for such favors as delivering permit applications or showing up quickly to inspect jobs instead of making them wait the typical three weeks. They said such "bonuses" are routinely paid to speed up backlogged permits and inspections.

Plumber Larry Ross said the last time was on Oct. 12, 1995, when he handed over a $50 company check that Mr. Peters deposited into his personal bank account. The check was to cover a $14 permit. Electrician Allan Sugarman, one of two contractors who had hired Mr. Peters' son, also told of giving the inspector small cash payments, which he described as "more like a little bonus."

State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy said last night that she would investigate their accounts "to the fullest extent of the law." She declined to say how broad the scope of her inquiry might be.

Pub Date: 3/19/96

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