Two resign in Tampa fire inspector flap

Thursday, January 3, 2008

TAMPA, Fla.—Two veteran fire inspectors who were charged with falsifying time cards and accepting gifts from a fire alarm installation company have resigned. However, a criminal investigation is ongoing and city officials specifically held out the possibility that other inspectors may be charged in the future.
Fire inspector Manuel Perrone and senior inspector Toy Palaez resigned on Dec. 17, one day after Tampa fire chief Dennis Jones announced that the two men had been notified to appear at a Dec. 17 pre-disciplinary hearing. Palaez and Perrone both earned roughly $80,000 apiece and had been city employees for more than 20 years, according to published reports. They are both currently eligible for pension benefits.
In addition to being accused of falsifying time cards, both men were charged with accepting gifts, which, according to reports included the use of a 30-foot Sea Ray boat, tickets to athletic events and concerts and golf tournaments fees from Advanced Engineering Systems, a fire alarm installation company based in Tampa. Advanced Engineering Systems is not accused of any wrongdoing. However, the city does regulate and inspect the work of Advanced Engineering Systems.
Sarah Lang, employee relations manager for the city of Tampa, said that the city ethics ordinance says that employees “may never accept a gift if it is given to influence” and they “may never accept gifts from lobbyists or from businesses that do business or contracts with the city.” Employees may accept nominal gifts worth less than $100, she said, but they need to avoid even the “appearance of impropriety.”
Perrone and Palaez were charged with violations of the ethics ordinance in the pre-disciplinary hearing notification.
According to a statement released by the city, six fire inspectors were interviewed on Dec. 12 as part of the investigation. “While two inspectors are receiving notification, that does not mean that other inspectors will not also be charged with policy violations. All individuals that are part of the investigation continue to be prohibited from making public comment on the investigation until it is complete,” the statement said.
The investigation was originally launched in Sept. 2006 when Tampa fire marshal Todd Spear received “information on alleged irregularities in the Tampa Fire Marshal’s office.”
Advanced Engineering Systems did not immediately return a call for comment on Jan. 2.