Lead inspector denies job led to buying houses

Man cited for violating laws says he didn't inspect sites

December 04, 2003|By Laurie Willis and Kimberly A.C. Wilson | Laurie Willis and Kimberly A.C. Wilson,SUN STAFF

A city lead-paint compliance inspector cited for violating state lead laws on four rental properties denied last night accusations that he inspected the rowhouses and then used his influence to purchase them cheaply.

"I didn't inspect the properties," said Ali Sardarizadeh, who has been suspended with pay during investigations by the state Department of the Environment and the city Health Department. "I have proof of that; I'll only show that in court to anybody who accuses me."

In response to MDE's findings on Sardarizadeh's properties, Health Commissioner Dr. Peter L. Beilenson said he will initiate a policy forbidding inspectors from purchasing buildings for which they have issued violations -- and Sardarizadeh will likely lose his job.

"If what is alleged pans out, and it appears it will, there's no question he'll be terminated," Beilenson said.

He said he doesn't know whether anyone was harmed by lead paint while living in a rowhouse owned by Sardarizadeh, whose salary is about $30,000. He said he thinks Sardarizadeh made attempts to minimize, or abate, the levels of lead in four buildings cited by the state to make the properties safe for children.

However, Beilenson could not say whether Sardarizadeh continued to monitor the lead levels after he leased them to tenants.

"I can say that between the time he brought the properties and the houses were abated, there were no people living in the houses," Beilenson said. "Since that time, he didn't register them with MDE, and there were probably at least a couple of turnovers. We can't say whether anyone was harmed post-abatement. You could argue he didn't register them, so he probably didn't do risk reduction ... but we don't know."

Sardarizadeh, 47, of the 4200 block of Mary Ave., is a licensed 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.

Sardarizadeh, a native of Iran who said he has been in the United States for 25 years, said he thinks he is being targeted because he is of Middle Eastern descent. "That's what I think," he said during a telephone interview. "Some people are trying to make an example of me."

On Tuesday, he was fined $100,000 for failing to address lead violations at four rental properties -- violations that date to 1998. MDE officials say Sardarizadeh owns at least four city houses -- in the 300 block of Whitridge Ave.; in the 1800 block of Asquith St.; in the 1800 block of Wilhelm St.; and in the 800 block of McCabe Ave.

Sardarizadeh said he owns only two properties -- the Mary Street house he lives in and the Wilhelm house, purchased after the property burned down.

Tisha King, 22, said she pays Sardarizadeh $650 a month to live at the Whitridge property in Charles Village. She was alarmed yesterday to learn that her neatly painted walls might pose a health problem to her and her daughters, ages 4 and 5.

All four burners on King's gas stove were lit. She said her heat has been off for several weeks, and Sardarizadeh acknowledged last night encouraging her to use her stove for heat until he fixes the problem. He said his company owns the house.

MDE officials have cited her landlord in connection with four city properties, but Jonas A. Jacobson, director of MDE's Waste Management Administration, which oversees the state's lead program, said he is investigating whether Sardarizadeh owns additional properties.

Ruth Ann Norton, executive director of the Baltimore-based Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning, said her office has uncovered six additional properties, including two on the same street, that are owned by Sardarizadeh. City tax records link four more properties to his Mary Street address.

Also, records of the Department of Assessments and Taxation show Sardarizadeh has owned or been affiliated with as many as seven businesses -- including Alborz Inc., a property management company that specializes in lead abatement and inspection and is based at his Mary Avenue home.

"We're looking to make sure we have complete accounting of the properties," Jacobson said.

The MDE order states that Sardarizadeh must relocate tenants in any lead-tainted properties, clean up any poisonous dust and pay a $100,000 fine before the department will reassess the properties to allow people to live in them again.

Rich McIntire, a department spokesman, said yesterday that it's hard to pinpoint responsibility for lead problems.

"We're always hammered with this accusation that we're taking so long," McIntire said. "But oftentimes when people are skirting the law, they'll cover their tracks or file these things under different names. We've had cases in court where the same person would file properties under different corporate names and under different family members' names."

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