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City inspector resigns, loses licenses after WWL-TV investigation

The Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors stripped Fraiche’s plumbing and mechanical licenses after WWL-TV’s investigation of gas and plumbing permits.

NEW ORLEANS — A New Orleans city inspector has resigned from City Hall and a state agency revoked his contractor’s licenses Thursday after finding he had lied about his private plumbing work.

The Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors stripped Buddy Fraiche’s plumbing and mechanical licenses after WWL-TV’s investigation of gas and plumbing permits found Fraiche was part of a web of self-dealing by government inspectors and private contractors.

The station’s review of thousands of city permits found Fraiche had been approving work by unlicensed gasfitters under permits granted to Jay Arnold and Vernon Marcotte, two top employees in the Sewerage and Water Board Plumbing Department. Arnold and his staff, in turn, approved plumbing work performed by Fraiche under various companies.

The Sewerage & Water Board suspended Arnold and Marcotte after WWL-TV raised questions. The FBI raided the agency’s Plumbing Department to get the paper-only plumbing permits two weeks ago, just hours after the WWL-TV report about Arnold, Marcotte and Fraiche.

Fallout from reports

Mayor LaToya Cantrell presided over the Sewerage and Water Board’s monthly meeting Wednesday and said the two S&WB employees, not the agency, are under investigation.

“Our integrity is in tact, we are credible and we are not corrupt,” Cantrell said in her first public comments on the FBI raid.

But the state licensing board’s investigative division sent a letter in January warning the Cantrell administration about the systemic problems in the Sewerage & Water Board’s Plumbing Department.

Top Cantrell aides questioned the S&WB about Arnold and Marcotte’s gas permits by email at the time. But the employees were not suspended until earlier this month, after WWL-TV made inquiries in late October about their side jobs as gasfitters and their use of unlicensed subcontractors.

The licensing board’s compliance director, Brad Hassert, said his agency has been investigating these matters for years and is very concerned about making sure construction work is done safely and inspected properly, especially with flammable natural gas.

“When a contractor … allows someone -- who hasn't taken the time to learn their craft or to prove that their skill level is sufficient -- to use their license, the public is ultimately the one that's injured by that,” Hassert said.

WWL-TV reports exposed issues

The latest company to use Fraiche’s master plumber’s license was Hermanos Rivera Construction.  Fraiche signed a sworn statement, under penalty of perjury, that he was working full-time for Hermanos Rivera for at least four consecutive months in 2019 when he applied to be their qualifying plumber and mechanical license-holder. At the same time, he was also working full-time as a public employee inspecting mechanical and gas installation projects for the city’s Safety & Permits Department.

Fraiche told WWL-TV last month that he did work full-time at Hermanos Rivera, as he had attested on the official application form, and continued to do so.

VIDEO: David Hammer speaks to Buddy Fraiche

“I do work 60 hours a week, minimum and you can ask anybody I know,” he said when approached by WWL-TV at a gas line inspection on Oct. 26.

But he changed his tune Thursday when the state licensing board questioned him under oath. He said he was not an employee when he signed the statement and admitted it was a false statement.

Hermanos Rivera owner Ricardo Rivera told the board he never employed Fraiche, but he and Fraiche “traded jobs.” Rivera said he did construction work for Fraiche, even building a house for him, in exchange for Fraiche's plumbing license. The LSLBC voted to revoke the company’s plumbing and mechanical licenses but let Rivera keep his building construction and residential contractor’s licenses.

“It's a very serious matter for this board for you to lend or sell your license,” LSLBC Commissioner Vic Weston said. “And quite frankly, that is exactly what you have done.”

By losing his plumbing license, Rivera said he must abandon 40 open plumbing permits in New Orleans. Hassert said new plumbers, with proper licenses, will need to be hired to replace Hermanos Rivera on those jobs.

A plumber named Danny Lambert also had his license suspended after he admitted to WWL-TV that he used his firm’s license to get Marcotte gas installation jobs because Marcotte’s gasfitter license had expired. Accardo & Lambert Plumbing and Heating was scheduled for a hearing at the contractors’ licensing board Thursday, but was granted a delay after Lambert hired a new attorney.

RELATED: City permitting officials promise to fix problems exposed by WWL-TV

RELATED: Gas permit investigation exposes web of self-dealing by S&WB officials, city inspectors and contractors