One of the patterns of public corruption is little guys don’t steal unless they see the big shots stealing. And so it is at LA City Hall.
The juxtaposition Friday of bribery charges being filed Friday against two city building inspectors and $13,300 in fines being leveled against four City Councilmen with more than four decades in elected office between them — Tony Cardenas, Eric Garcetti, Jose Huizar and Herb Wesson — for illegally taking free tickets and fancy dinners is just such an example.
They come on the heels of the mayor being socked with nearly $42,000 in fines by city and state ethics officials for similar abuses — a pathetically small punishment for the extent of his abuses and their flagrant nature. You can’t expect any better from agencies that under the control of the politicians whose conduct they are supposed to monitor..
Bribery and graft go together like love and marriage, and in these cases are just a window into far more pervasive corruption.
Freebies for city elected officials are nothing compared to how developers, contractors, unions, lawyers and others who operate inside the circle of power donate millions of dollars to campaign war chests, officeholder accounts and various other fund-raising activities to buy what is called “access” but actually amount to bribery since they get spectacular returns on their investments in form of subsidized projects, tax breaks, contracts and other favors.
The only reason why get away with it is because no one ever investigates, subpoenas records, impanels grand juries or organizes sting operations as they did in the case of building inspectors Hugo Joel Gonzalez and Raoul Joseph Germain.
District Attorney Steve Cooley’s record on public corruption is clear: Nail some small town crooks like Bell city officials when their crimes have become public knowledge and can’t be ignored while never taking the lead, especially when it comes to the LA political machine.
A case in point are the charges against the building inspectors who were caught taking bribes of $9,000 and $6,000 respectively in a sting operation involving bribes an undercover agent and informant working for a developer for approving permits without even visiting properties.
The FBI, not Cooley, conducted the investigation.
It’s not like there was a big mystery about what was going on in the Department of Building and Safety.
Two audits by then City Controller Laura Chick laid out conditions in the department that made in ripe for the kind of pervasive corruption that the informant alleged, according to an affidavit filed in the case.
“The case has the potential to reach far beyond the two arrests, the
affidavits suggest. The informant spoke of paying as many as 40
monetary bribes to building inspectors and called the problem “systemic”
at the city agency,” the LA Times reported
“In some cases, the informant said, building inspectors accepted
materials and labor for their personal homes. In one instance, the
unnamed informant paid for an inspector’s vacation, according to the
affidavit.The informant ‘ever refused to pay a bribe in connection with any such
property,’because the payments were the only way to avoid delays and,
with some inspectors, the ‘only way to pass inspections required in
connection with residential construction projects,’ according to the
Chick’s audits exposed how the department handled its money with such loose controls, it would have been easy to steal it right from the till, and how it had become a tool for the benefit of developer
s, not the public.
“Behind the scenes and out of the light of day,” she said, the department “has used tricks and gimmicks in how it oversees some of its funds. Many questions need to be answered regarding how costs are recovered and how funds are managed.”
The second audit on Building and Safety’s performance revealed that under political pressure to speed up approval of development projects, the department was failing in almost every to protect the public interest and the public safety.
The goal no longer was to make sure that buildings were safe and met the code requirements but to speed up the process for developers.
The LA Weekly’s Jeffrey Anderson reporte
d on Chick’s audits and how the Building and Safety Department’s policies and practices were allowing out of control development that was damaging the quality of life for the city’s residents.
“City Controller Laura Chick’s scathing audit this week shows an out-of-control Department of Building and Safety that allows developers to have their way with Los Angeles at the expense of public safety,” he reported..
“Keeping with the harsh tone of the draft audit obtained two weeks ago by the L.A. Weekly, Chick found building inspectors who are pressured by higher-ups and others to avoid writing orders to correct code violations. Sometimes, when inspectors do issue orders, repeat offenders thumb their noses without penalty. Chick pledged to ‘stay inside the department’ while reforms are put in place, with the mayor’s support. ‘There are problems just waiting to erupt,’ she said. ‘Whether pressure [to avoid enforcement] is political, comes from developers or from supervisors, all of that is wrong, and it should stop.’ “
It’s not a mystery why the problems have erupted into overt acts of corruption.
Just check out the record on development of Cardenas, Garcetti, Huizar, Wesson and the rest of the Council. They are on the take in their own way and so most of all is the mayor who did the opposite of what Chick recommended by intensifying the political pressure to speed up the approval process for the benefit of developers, especially big contributors, and short-circuit the safeguards that protect the public and the quality of life in our neighborhoods.
When the big shots are crooks, don’t expect $90,000 a year building inspectors to respect the rule of law.