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Head building inspector under criminal investigation
Thursday, 21 September 2006

State yanks licenses of Newark construction official
The state has revoked the professional licenses of the recently suspended head of Newark's building inspections office and has referred the investigation of his predecessor to state criminal investigators, the commissioner for the state Department of Community Affairs said.

State yanks licenses of Newark construction official

Probe of actions by his predecessor is referred to criminal investigators
Friday, September 01, 2006
BY IAN T. SHEARN
Star-Ledger Staff

The state has revoked the professional licenses of the recently suspended head of Newark's building inspections office and has referred the investigation of his predecessor to state criminal investigators, the commissioner for the state Department of Community Affairs said.

DCA officials say construction official John Anstiss, who was suspended from his job last month on unrelated administrative charges, improperly approved shoddy home construction by a developer with close ties to the administration of former Mayor Sharpe James.

Anstiss issued a certificate of occupancy for a two-family home in the city's South Ward in 2004, which was built without proper beams to support the second floor. As a result of the negligent construction, the floor sagged visibly and cracks appeared throughout the interior and exterior walls of the house, according to the Department of Community Affairs.

Anstiss showed "a degree of incompetence ... by overlooking the basic framing aspects and architectural specifications of the approved plans," according to the Aug. 7 order to revoke issued by the state Department of Community Affairs.

Anstiss replaced Joseph Giordano, whose license was revoked by the DCA in June for issuing a certificate of occupancy for a three-family home in the city's East Ward eight months after entering into an agreement with the developer to buy the home. Giordano resigned his position in Newark on July 7.

DCA guidelines prohibit construction officials and their subordinates from inspecting or taking enforcement actions against properties in which they have an economic interest.

"At the time, I didn't know that," Giordano said in a phone interview Wednesday.

The DCA investigation further charged Giordano with purchasing the home "for $10,000 less than the other home purchasers in the development through a real estate credit at the time of closing, thus receiving economic gain," according to the notice to revoke.

Giordano said Wednesday the $10,000 credit was a commission for his wife, who was an agent for the real estate firm that listed the 11-home Chestnut Street development project, which included the home Giordano purchased. She negotiated the sale with the developer, he said. She did no work for any of the other homes in the project, he added.

"She works. She's entitled to make a profit," Giordano said. "At the time, I thought it was okay. I still think it's okay."

Their purchase price is recorded at $327,000. The couple reaped a profit of more than $300,000 when they sold the Chestnut Street home last year, property records show.

The developer was Jacinto Rodrigues, a prominent Newark developer with close ties to the James administration. Rodrigues owns a development company, which has been the recipient of more than six acres of deeply discounted land purchased from the City of Newark. He also owns a real estate company and is the chairman of Crown Bank.

DCA Commissioner Susan Bass Levin said the Giordano case has been referred to the state Division of Criminal Justice.

"I don't know anything about that," Giordano said. "They're blowing this whole thing out of proportion."

Levin said she cannot comment on either of the cases because she will rule on the appeals Anstiss and Giordano have requested.

But she did offer this general comment: "DCA is vigilant in protecting the community from incompetent, dishonest and negligent building inspectors." In the past four years, she said, her investigators have revoked 46 licenses, 16 of them construction officials, and 117 cases of lesser disciplinary actions against inspectors.

Denise Peterkin-Bell, spokeswoman for Mayor Cory Booker, declined comment.

Anstiss did all the inspections on the sagging North Ward home and issued the certificate of occupancy.

That home was built by Triple A Builders, owned by Manuel Goncalves, one of the city's leading redevelopers. From 2000 through 2004, Goncalves built 56 homes on land he purchased from the city at deep discounts, making him the city's second leading redeveloper. The North Ward home sits on a piece of land the city sold to Goncalves at a discount.

Anstiss could not be reached for comment.

This is not the first time Anstiss has come under DCA scrutiny.

In 2003, Anstiss signed off on a poorly laid foundation and a retaining wall that later collapsed. The state agency ordered his license suspended for 30 days for improper inspection and enforcement practices. He appealed and agreed instead to pay a $2,500 fine and complete a training course.

DCA cited this case again in Anstiss' current revocation order, saying Anstiss did not properly inspect the repair work that has been going on for the past two years.

"It's almost a repeat of the original mistakes," said William Connelly, DCA director of code compliance. "We can't understand it."

 

 

Ian T. Shearn may be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it or (973) 392-1671.
http://www.nj.com/news/ledger/essex/index.ssf?/base/news-2/1157090220289960.xml&coll=1

 
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