City of New Orleans suspends inspectors who signed off on Hard Rock project work

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The Hard Rock Hotel partially collapsed onto Canal Street downtown New Orleans, Louisiana on October 12, 2019. – One person died and at least 18 others were injured Saturday when the top floors of a New Orleans hotel that was under construction collapsed, officials said. (Emily Kask/Getty)

NEW ORLEANS, La. (WDSU) – The city of New Orleans placed two Department of Safety and Permits employees on emergency suspension Thursday (Feb. 20), records show. A third employee who retired last week from the department was notified Thursday of allegations against him similar to those made against the suspended workers.

All three senior building inspectors approved work at the Hard Rock Hotel construction site prior to its Oct. 12 collapse that killed three workers, according to inspection records.

The news comes amid multiple investigations into the Department of Safety and Permits, including a federal probe that predates the collapse of the 18-story structure. It has already resulted in a guilty plea from a former city inspector for taking bribes. Multiple investigations are looking into the collapse at the Hard Rock site, where the bodies of two workers have not yet been recovered because city officials insist it’s not safe to do so.

The two Safety and Permits employees suspended Thursday, Julie Tweeter and veteran inspector Eric Treadaway, and the retired employee, Thomas Dwyer, were accused in separate suspension notifications of using photos of inspection sites sent to them by third parties to give the false impression they inspected the property in person.

Letters sent separately to Dwyer, Tweeter and Treadaway all contain the same allegation: “a pattern of your failure to conduct inspections of buildings as assigned and required by our job duties, as well as subsequent falsification of public records pertaining to these unconducted inspections.”

Tweeter’s attorney Herb Larson said in a statement his client was “fully cooperating” with law enforcement investigations and “shares the public’s concern regarding the tragedy.” WDSU could not immediately reach Dwyer or Treadaway.

Dwyer retired Friday, Feb. 14, said LaTonya Norton, press secretary for Mayor LaToya Cantrell. Tweeter and Treadaway have “pretermination hearings” scheduled for March 9, according to their letters, which Chief Administrative Officer Gilbert Montano signed.

Records show Treadaway worked for the department since 1987. Dwyer retired after joining the Safety and Permits in 1997, and Tweeter has worked for the department since March 2015.

Thursday’s suspensions come about five months after two now-retired employees of the Department of Safety and Permits, Richella Maxwell and Larry Chan, faced emergency suspensions related to an unspecified federal investigation into the department.

Maxwell and Chan’s suspension letters, sent in September, each separately claimed they were involved in “the alleged illegal issuance of city permits.” They left their city jobs in mid-January and were able to receive back pay for the four months they were suspended with the understanding they would drop their appeals and not “seek or accept any future employment with the City.”

The former building inspector who pleaded guilty in federal court, Kevin Richardson, has admitted to accepting $65,000 in bribes related to his duties as a code enforcement inspector. His sentencing hearing is set for May 5 in U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan’s court.

The suspension letters for Tweeter, Dwyer and Treadaway list dates when the city, citing an internal investigation, said “unconducted inspections” occurred.

Tweeter is accused of failing to inspect sites she claimed to have visited on eight different dates: March 29, 2019, April 1, 2019, April 3, 2019, April 4, 2019, April 5, 2019, April 12, 2019, July 18, 2019, and Sept. 16, 2019. Records show she signed off on work at the Hard Rock site on half of those dates. Tweeter approved a slab inspection on April 4, 2019, a foundation inspection on April 12, a slab inspection on July 18 and a foundation inspection on Sept. 16, 2019.

Tweeter signed off on a total of 32 inspections at the Hard Rock site from February 2018 to September 2019. The last inspection she signed off on at the Hard Rock site was Oct. 1, 11 days before the collapse, when she approved work during a slab inspection.

Treadaway is accused of failing to inspect sites he claimed to have inspected on May 22, 2019, and June 4, 2019. Hard Rock project inspection records show Treadaway signed off on work at the site on both those dates: a foundation inspection on May 22, 2019, and a slab inspection on June 4. Treadaway signed off on a total of seven inspections at the Hard Rock site. He also found the project failed its general inspection on Oct. 16, 2014.

Dwyer is accused of failing to inspect sites he claimed to have inspected on April 2, 2019, and Oct. 1, 2019. Hard Rock project inspection records show Dwyer did not sign off on any inspections at that site on those dates, though he did approve 10 inspections on different dates from June 2018 to September 2019.

Tweeter also does not appear to have been properly licensed to inspect a commercial building at the time of some of her inspections there, records show. She did not obtain her commercial building inspector license until July 2018, according to records from the Louisiana State Uniform Construction Code Council, an arm of the State Fire Marshal’s office. By that point she had already signed off on inspections at the Hard Rock site at least five times.

Prior to July 2018, Tweeter was only licensed to inspect residential buildings, records show. According to the International Code Council, a residential building inspector license only applies to one-and two-family dwellings and town homes with fewer than four stories.

Records show Dwyer, Tweeter and Treadaway were three of 11 building inspectors in a department that a city roster shows has just more than 100 employees total.

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