@THE GUSS REPORT-One month ago my CityWatch article exposed how Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti threw under the bus a veteran Los Angeles Fire Department Deputy Chief named John Vidovich (photo above) who actually did what he was supposed to do: improve public safety by exposing inefficiency and fraud among some, but more than a few, fire inspectors.
Vidovich’s efforts caused fraudulent overtime to plummet (some inspectors are believed to have been paid more than $130,000 in annual overtime) and criminal behavior to be exposed so much so that the firefighter’s union stepped in with hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign cash for Garcetti and members of LA City Council in a curiously timed, but alleged and unstated, quid-pro-quo donation to stop Vidovich.
I have since received scores of statements from Vidovich supporters alleging specific acts of fraud, including some that accuse the Garcetti-appointed LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas of knowing about the criminal activity but doing nothing about it internally or not reporting it to the District Attorney’s office for further investigation.
Perhaps the most pronounced area of the alleged fraud at the LAFD is in its Schools, Churches and Institutions unit which, according to its website, is “responsible for the inspection of all public, private and charter schools in the city of Los Angeles…and for inspecting Los Angeles Unified Schools District schools, churches with over 750 attendees, jails and residential care facilities.”
The accusations against Inspectors in this unit include:
Last November, Inspector Glenn Martinez allegedly put in for 30 hours of inspection time at the University of Southern California. The problem is that those hours were billed during the bustling USC/UCLA football game week that, according to sources, would never have taken place during that time, and could not have taken place because Martinez would have needed key card access. Some sources claim Terrazas knew about this allegation as early as December, 2015, but failed to launch an investigation until I started researching it for my article in August, 2016. Martinez may also be caught up in similar activity at Occidental College.
Inspector Aaron Walker is accused of being so far behind in his work that he allegedly deleted from the inspection database dozens of ancient buildings at the West Los Angeles Veterans Administration campus. An internal report given to Terrazas is believed to show the results of a computer forensics investigation indicating that those addresses were deleted via Walker’s account. Walker is rumored to have denied this allegation, claiming that someone made the deletions while signed in under his name, but he could not be reached for comment for this article.
Inspectors Derricke Lockhart and Patricia Ramirez were both accused of allegedly inspecting, among other places, several daycare facilities that may have been closed for as much as a decade on the dates they claimed to have inspected them.
Vidovich (photo left) was hardly alone in his efforts to expose the corruption. Among the good guys is Captain Duc Nguyen, who discovered one Inspector allegedly putting in for 150 different inspections at a swap meet that had a single address.
These and many more allegations were known to the higher-ups, like independent assessor Sue Stengel, who, sources say, was more hell bent on finding dirt on Vidovich than on digging into the fraud allegations and misconduct that was known to management before he was appointed to clean it up.
It is believed that Walker, Martinez and some of their colleagues have, or are about to, put in a claim against the city for $1 million each for retaliation, a pre-cursor to a formal lawsuit that may have the unintended consequence of exposing more wrongdoing during the discovery process.
Since these allegations would amount to felonious behavior (if proven truthful) due to the monetary value of each fraudulent inspection, what remains to be determined is what, if anything, did Terrazas tell Mayor Garcetti? And if he did tell him, was Garcetti too busy endorsing the firefighter union’s campaign check to care?
If they both stay silent on a matter of public corruption, it’s time for the FBI to get involved. Garcetti, Terrazas, Stengel and firefighter’s union officials at the local and national level did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a writer who contributes to CityWatchLA, Huffington Post and KFI AM-640. He blogs on humane issues at http://ericgarcetti.blogspot.com/. His views do not necessarily reflect those of CityWatch. This is the second of an ongoing CityWatch investigation into LAFD inspection fraud.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.