Lead inspector violated lead laws, Md. says

He owns, rents city houses in question, records state

December 03, 2003|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

State officials issued a complaint and imposed $100,000 in penalties yesterday against an inspector in the Baltimore City Health Department's lead poisoning program for violating the state's lead laws at four city houses he owns and rents.

State and city records show that Ali Sardorizadeh bought three of the houses from owners after citing them for lead violations.

Sardorizadeh, who also goes by the name of Amin Sardaryzadeh, was notified in 1998 of lead violations at some of his rental properties and has yet to address them, said Jonas A. Jacobson, director of the Maryland Department of the Environment's Waste Management Administration, which oversees the state's lead program.

Sardorizadeh -- who was suspended from work with pay -- declined to comment yesterday.

"It's really sort of scary, isn't it?" said Jacobson, whose department issued the complaint and penalties. "This is someone who should know the law. ... This is a law that protects children, and here we have an inspector who is supposed to be protecting children and he is not abiding by state law."

Sardorizadeh, 44, of the 4200 block of Mary Ave. is an inspector with the department's Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program -- responsible for reviewing properties for violations and citing landlords who fail to adhere to the state's tough lead laws. They require owners of rental properties constructed before 1950 to reduce lead hazard risks.

Landlords of older properties must register them with the state, and Sardorizadeh had failed to do so, Jacobson said, potentially exposing children to lead. At least one of the houses that Sardorizadeh owns is inhabited by a family with children, according to the Baltimore-based Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning.

"If you are going to allow people to own property, they should have to disclose ownership and affirm every year that they are in full compliance with city, state and federal laws," said Ruth Ann Norton, executive director of the coalition. "These health inspectors should be unreproachable on this issue. This is deadly serious stuff."

Sardorizadeh inspected three of the properties -- 1807 Aisquith St., 807 McCabe Ave., and 351 Whitridge Ave. -- and cited their owners for lead violations, said Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, city health commissioner. State records show that Sardorizadeh, or his company, then purchased the houses for reduced prices. His company, Ferdosi Inc., bought the house on Aisquith Street for $3,000 in 1998.

Beilenson said that it is unclear if Sardorizadeh used his knowledge of the lead violations at the houses to buy the properties at reduced prices. If so, the commissioner said that he would seek to fire Sardorizadeh under a policy prohibiting unbecoming behavior by city employees.

"At best, there is an appearance of impropriety," said Beilenson, who found out Nov. 26 that Sardorizadeh owned the houses and was under investigation by the state for lead law violations. Beilenson said he found out Monday that Sardorizadeh had inspected the houses and then purchased them. "He should not have been involved in that kind of a transaction."

Beilenson said Sardorizadeh abated city-cited lead violations at the three properties between 2000 and last year, and that, to the best of his knowledge, no one had lived in the houses before they had been re-inspected. He said he had confirmed that Sardorizadeh did not perform the re-inspections, but added that it was unclear if the inspectors who visited the houses knew that they were owned by a colleague.

"I don't have any reason to believe that there was any favoritism, but we can't rule it out," Beilenson said.

The department is reviewing every inspection done by Sardorizadeh, who has been a city inspector for several years. He was laid off because of cutbacks in the lead program from 1999 to 2001, and rehired when the city received new funds.

"Hopefully, these are the only three incidences where he inspected a house and then purchased them," said Beilenson.

Beilenson said that in the 11 years he has been health commissioner, there has been no instance of conflicts of interests involving department inspectors. However, he said that he could do more to ensure that inspectors don't have any a financial interest in properties they are examining.

"This is a gross betrayal of public trust," he said. "If I needed a house inspected, I would be very concerned."

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