NEW ORLEANS — After a WWL-TV investigation prompted the FBI to raid the Sewerage & Water Board Plumbing Department in early November, the city blocked the head of that department, Jay Arnold, from getting permits for private gas line repairs and installation jobs.
His city license as a master gasfitter was suspended, his active gas permits were frozen and the Sewerage & Water Board suspended him from his $104,028 job.
But after that, someone used Arnold’s online city permitting account to improperly change the name on dozens of his open gas permits and even on one closed permit, as well as some of his expired licenses. That is raising legal concerns about altering public records.
The changes to the city’s database also caused headaches for some homeowners who are waiting for critical gas work on their home construction and repair projects and need work done under Arnold’s original permits to be approved.
WWL-TV has been monitoring Arnold’s permits for months as a part of its investigation of self-dealing by plumbers, plumbing inspectors and city gas inspectors. The station noticed that 82 of Arnold’s permits and three of his expired gasfitter licenses were changed to the name William Hohensee sometime in the 10 days before Thanksgiving.
WWL-TV asked the city for an explanation and a city spokesman confirmed this week that the changes were made improperly using Arnold’s online login.
“Any changes from the original applicant were made externally through the web account holder, Jay Arnold or someone on his behalf,” city spokesman Beau Tidwell said. “Irrespective of the information change, all permits associated with this account are disabled. Although the system will always associate the web permits to the initial applicant, the information has been restored to the original applicant.”
Tidwell explained that only the name on the public database was changed, not the underlying permit applications or inspection documents. But Rafael Goyeneche of the Metropolitan Crime Commission said that any city record that’s available to the public is a public record and cannot be manipulated without proper authorization.
“If they have been altered, then every public record that was altered is a state felony,” Goyeneche said. “This is an evolving investigation, but if (Arnold) played any role in either concealing or altering records involving this investigation, it could prove problematic for him.”
WWL-TV spoke briefly to Arnold in October and asked to interview him about his gas permits. He said he would call back but never did. He did not answer calls this week to his cell phone. WWL-TV called a plumbing company where they acknowledged he is now working, but he did not respond to a message left for him.
All of Arnold’s altered permits and licenses were put under the name of Bill Hohensee of Mudbug Plumbing and Repair.
The city confirmed that Hohensee does not have an active gasfitter's license in the city and is not allowed to take over Arnold's licenses and permits.
WWL-TV left messages for Hohensee at Mudbug and for Mudbug’s owner, Danny Bolner, but they did not respond.
The WWL-TV investigation found Arnold often signed contracts for others to do work under his gas permits using Mudbug's letterhead, which gives the company’s address on Clearview Parkway in Metairie. Arnold’s gasfitter’s license with the city used the same address on Clearview Parkway.
In at least one of the cases where Arnold signed a Mudbug contract to have a plumber without a city license perform the gas-line installation work, the property owners now find themselves having trouble completing the construction of their home.
Those owners asked WWL-TV not to name them but acknowledged they tried to fire Arnold as the gasfitter on their home construction project when they heard about the FBI raiding his offices at the Sewerage & Water Board on Nov. 5. They said their contractor instructed them to file paperwork with City Hall to replace Arnold as the permit holder.
They tried to do that but were again delayed when the city told them the permit was now in Hohensee's name. They had to write another letter on Nov. 24 to replace Hohensee as gasfitter, someone they never heard of and didn’t know was involved in their project in any way.
It appears at least 80 other property owners are now waiting on certificates of completion for Arnold’s gas permits that were improperly changed to Hohensee’s name.
Sewerage and Water Board Executive Director Ghassan Korban said his agency has changed its policies and made sure that suspended employees no longer have access to the records in the Plumbing Department.