Sprinkler official charged with fraud

Plan reviewer rubber-stamped designs from his own companies
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Thursday, January 1, 2004

MIAMI - A former Miami-Dade county fire sprinkler official arrested on fraud charges in early 2003 was awaiting trial in early January on charges that he improperly owned two sprinkler companies and accepted bribes from others while he worked as a sprinkler inspector.

Istvan “Steven” Fazekas, a former engineer for the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department, will answer a litany of charges, including bribery, money laundering and perjury that stem from his tenure as the sole sprinkler design reviewer in the Miami-Dade County.

Officials said that through two sprinkler design firms Fazekas operated, SAF International Corp. and Firebyte Inc., he received more than $1 million from at least 17 different companies who called on his design services. Fazekas would then go on to approve many of the same plans as an engineer for the county. Fazekas’ businesses are now defunct, according to Marie Perikles, assistant legal council for the Miami-Dade County Office of the Inspector General, which led the investigation with the Dade County State Attorneys’ office.

Fazekas was also charged with accepting $45,000 in bribes from two other local sprinkler companies and laundering his proceeds from his dealings through secret bank accounts or by cashing forged checks. Perikles said she couldn’t comment on the continuing investigation into the two companies who bribed Fazekas because the investigation into that was continuing.

“The difficulty in this type of (case) is that you need someone to testify,” Perikles said. “In some of these cases, there will be employees of those firms that will testify.”

Despite the manner in which Fazekas conducted his job, officials in the Miami-Dade Inspector General’s office said that the quality of plan review work was not in question.

“The allegations are not that he did things incorrectly, but that he was secretly owning two companies that drafted plans,” Perikles said. “It’s not a quality of work issue, and there are no concerns that (Fazekas’) work was done incorrectly.”

County fire officials said in a press release at the time of his arrest in February that the department would undertake a thorough review of plans approved by Fazekas and would “implement procedures to ensure that abuses detected in this investigation will not occur in the future.” Officials from the fire department did not return phone calls by press time.

Fazekas had to be extradited from his native Hungary, where he fled in April after escaping from a Miami courtroom by running down the up escalator in the courthouse. He was in court, free on bail, at that time to face the first round of charges in the fraud investigation and ran when he learned that additional charges were to be filed against him.