Zurik: Additional discrepancies found in suspended building inspector’s past work

Updated: Feb. 24, 2020 at 10:00 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - FOX 8 has uncovered additional discrepancies between the New Orleans Department of Safety and Permits inspection logs and GPS data from vehicles in the department. The data is part of an internal and external investigation ongoing with the city into whether inspectors in the department actually visited sites they claimed to have inspected.

Since FOX 8 first reported on the discrepancies, the city issued an emergency suspension without pay for inspectors Julie Tweeter and Eric Treadaway. A suspension for Thomas Dwyer was also issued, but he retired before the suspension was issued. FOX 8 requested additional records from Tweeter and it is revealing even more discrepancies in her inspections.

“We are there to protect the public, to protect the city, to protect everybody involved,” Frank Morris, a Texas-based inspector with 47 years of construction experience, said. “If it’s not physically inspected, but signed off to me that can go all the way to being criminal.”

Morris has 46 different certifications from the International Code Council which is a lead accreditation group. Most of the inspectors with the city of New Orleans have one or two certifications.

“It makes me sick to my stomach,” Morris said regarding FOX 8′s findings which showed inspector Julie Tweeter signed off on inspections, but GPS information showed she was likely not on-site.

“I would say at very most simplest deal it would take between 15-30 minutes... just to inspect -- if they’re doing the job right," Morris said.

FOX 8 decided to review all of Tweeter’s inspections during the time period we also have inspection logs. What we found was dozens of inspections from all across the city that GPS records indicate may have never happened.

“This is an incredibly serious problem,” Tulane Law Professor Joel Friedman said. “This is much bigger than the Hard Rock, although the Hard Rock is the perfect manifestation of the problem."

By comparison, our analysis showed Tweeter did do some inspections. On October 1, 2019, she drove to 607 Forstall and inspection logs showed she passed a property’s inspection just down the street on the building’s certificate of occupancy.

“The fact that she is doing some things and you’ve confirmed this suggests that she isn’t doing other inspections is also accurate -- it demonstrates the accuracy of your information,” Friedman said.

But the data obtained from the city showed no GPS data for her vehicle coming close to an address on Marigny Street in the St. Roch neighborhood on September 3, 2019. On that date, she marked a property as passing a general inspection. There are also no GPS data matching an inspection signed off by Tweeter at Brother Martin High School on July 30.

“There’s a reason why we have inspections... it’s not to raise money for the city....it’s to make sure that buildings are constructed in accordance with code and regulations,” Friedman said. “And when you don’t do the inspections and pretend that you do and you sign off as though you’ve done them, this is gross malfeasance.”

We have questions about more than thirty of the inspections she made during the four month period we have GPS and inspection records. That amount adds up to around ten percent of the properties she claimed to inspect during that time period.

“There’s lack of management, lack of supervision, I would want to know from her supervisor -- did you know that on Day X she was doing something else,” Friedman said.

We have reached out to Julie Tweeter for comment but her attorney has not responded to our requests for comment.

Friedman said the lack of additional inspections could call into question the safety of other properties in the city.

“This is a very serious thing,” Friedman said. “You have to look no further than what happened at the Hard Rock. It’s not that it wasn’t inspected now, it’s that it wasn’t inspected when it was being built.”

The suspended city inspectors will have a pre-termination hearing before the city’s Department of Safety and Permits in March.



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