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FDNY inspector accused of bribery: Queens DA

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A Fire Department inspector who lives in Rosedale was arrested last week on charges he bribed a supervisor to remove from a database fire-code violations that had been issued to two auto repair garages in Willets Point, authorities said.

The Queens district attorney identified the inspector as Louis Smith, a civilian employee of the Fire Department since 1994 who was assigned to a department office in Richmond Hill. He is accused of offering the supervisor, who worked undercover for the city Department of Investigation, a total of $600 to amend the contents of a computerized database — which only supervisors have access to — to show that two summonses issued to the Willets Point businesses had been corrected, the DA said.

The Queens district attorney, the Department of Investigation and the Fire Department were involved in a joint investigation of the inspector.

In addition, Smith is accused of offering $200 to the same supervisor last Thursday, the day he was arrested, to assist in obtaining a permit for a business in Jamaica that would allow the use of wielding equipment, the authorities.

It was unclear whether any of the three businesses offered payment or compensation to Smith, said Patrick Clark, a spokesman for the city Department of Investigation.

Smith, 55, was arraigned in Queens Criminal Court on charges of third-degree bribery where he pleaded not-guilty. If convicted, Smith faces up to seven years in prison.

The investigation into Smith began in early June, when a supervising inspector for the Fire Department contacted the Department of Investigation and said that he had been offered $200 in exchange for his removing violations issued to two auto-repair shops, authorities said. A day later, on June 6, the supervisor placed a telephone call to Smith, which was recorded, and arranged a meeting for the following day.

When they met on June 7, authorities said, the supervisor was asked to reinspect two businesses right next to each other on Northern Boulevard near 126th Street — Nagris Auto Repair and G&A Auto Repair — that had been issued summonses in late May. Nagris Auto Repair had received a summons for improperly storing spray paint, and G&A Auto Repair for not having a certificate of occupancy.

Less than a month after the supervisor completed those inspections, the two met again, this time in a McDonald’s parking lot on Conduit Boulevard in Queens, where he was given an additional $400 to delete the two summonses, the authorities said.

“The defendant is alleged to have betrayed the public’s trust by bribing a supervisor into making fire violations disappear,” Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said. “By his alleged actions, he placed many people at tremendous risk by seeking to remove violations where unsafe conditions existed.”

Smith was arrested last Thursday on the same day that he allegedly paid the supervisor $200 to help him obtain what is called a “torch” permit for RAJ Auto Center Corp. in Jamaica. Such a permit would allow the business to use wielding equipment, authorities said.

“The Fire Department — as it did in this case — will utilize every resource available to aggressively pursue corruption or wrongdoing among any of its employees,” Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen said.

Reach reporter Chris Fuchs by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.

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