Columbia builder pleads guilty to falsifying documents

Altieri Homes fined $2,400 after workers alter inspection papers

April 25, 2001|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

One of the region's major home builders was fined $2,400 in Howard County Circuit Court yesterday after the company pleaded guilty to charges that its workers falsified building inspection documents.

Altieri Homes Inc., a Columbia company, entered guilty pleas to two criminal counts each of false entry in a public record and false endorsement of documents. Prosecutors dropped five additional charges against the company and a separate set of charges against the company president, Daren Altieri, during yesterday's hearing.

Altieri's lawyer, Harry B. Siegel, said his clients have acknowledged wrongdoing from the start; they demoted the workers involved and paid $2,100 in civil penalties imposed after a county building inspector discovered five suspicious documents.

Yesterday's plea was a continuation of that acknowledgment, he said.

"They wanted to make sure, when presented with the opportunity, that they accepted responsibility and moved on," Siegel said after the hearing.

Assistant State's Attorney Lara Weathersbee said the evidence pointed to the company as a whole. "The strength of the evidence was against the corporation and not against a specific individual," she said.

The guilty pleas involved two houses, one on Downs Ridge Court in Elkridge, the other on Norway Court in Columbia.

County officials had gone to both building sites, in August 1999 and September 1999, to do required inspections of the footings - concrete used to set the foundation for a house, Weathersbee said.

In one case, county officials rejected the work and in the other, they issued a stop-work order, she said.

When, in December 1999, the company applied for certificates of use and occupancy for the houses, records showed that the county had not approved the footings.

Altieri then faxed to the county documentation that an engineer had inspected the footings, Weathersbee said. But John Schneider, the engineer whose seal appeared on the documents, said he did not write the letter or do the inspections.

As a result of the discovery of suspicious documents, county officials imposed civil penalties on Altieri last year. The county's Department of Inspections, Licensing and Permits alerted the state's attorney's office to the case, and in December, criminal charges were filed against Daren Altieri and Altieri Homes, which has built hundreds of homes in the Baltimore region.

At the time charges were filed, county building inspectors said that cases of falsified engineer certificates are rare.

Altieri Homes has set up controls to prevent such an incident from happening again, Siegel said. Certificates issued by an engineer are sent directly to the county by the engineer instead of through Altieri Homes "so nothing happens without the engineer knowing about it," he said.

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