NEW ORLEANS — The owner of the area’s leading private building inspection company and the former top building inspector for the city of New Orleans are facing arrest Thursday in Jefferson Parish for allegedly fabricating safety inspections for a local contractor.
Randy Farrell, owner of the private inspection firm IECI, and Larry Chan, an IECI inspector who was also in charge of New Orleans city government inspectors until 2019, said they were asked Thursday morning to turn themselves in to the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office.
Sheriff’s investigators suspect Farrell and Chan of signing false inspection reports, filed with Jefferson Parish in April 2020, approving a home addition project in Metairie by general contractor Ron Jouandot II.
A warrant was also issued for Jouandot alleging residential contractor fraud, working without a permit, working outside the terms of his license and falsifying the inspection records. Reached by phone Thursday, Jouandot declined to comment. An HVAC contractor, Jerson Dubon, is also wanted for participating in the inspection scheme, Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office said.
Reached by phone, Dubon said he didn't even install the air conditioning but did Jouandot a favor by letting him use Dubon's license to pull necessary mechanical permits.
"Somebody else installed the air conditioning," Dubon said. Jouandot "said, 'Can you do me a favor and pull the mechanical permit?' And I did a favor for this guy and he didn’t even pay me."
Dubon said he went back and fixed the air conditioning in the house even though he didn't do the original work.
Farrell and Chan are suspected of filing false statements into official government records, obstruction of justice for providing the allegedly false records in response to a court order and accessory to contractor fraud, the sheriff's office said.
Farrell and Chan said they planned to turn themselves in but vehemently denied the allegations that they falsified any inspections. In a phone interview with WWL-TV, Farrell said Jouandot called IECI to do a final inspection on an attic addition project in Metairie and it was he and Chan who discovered that Jouandot was missing necessary permits for work he had already performed.
“He didn’t have all his permits in at the proper time,” Farrell said. “We were called out and we told him he missed the rough-in (inspection), and I said you’re missing the permits. We have photos of us there and everything. These are not falsified records. This should have been a civil case between the homeowner and the contractor.”
“I feel I did a proper inspection,” Chan said.
Farrell and Chan provided copies of photographs showing them and Jouandot at the house for the inspection, even though Jefferson Parish does not require inspectors to file photographs like the city of New Orleans does.
Farrell and Chan said one photo in particular showed a reflection of them in a glass shower stall. The sheriff's office said that photo and others were filed in an official inspection report, but deputies don't believe that proves Farrell and Chan showed up for all the inspections they claimed to have done.
Farrell has repeatedly said that he and his inspectors give contractors opportunities to fix problems when they find them, rather than sending in failed inspections to the local government.
WWL-TV reviewed 15 months of New Orleans inspection data and found out of thousands of third-party inspections, IECI and other private companies had never submitted a single failed inspection. A city spokesperson said the Safety and Permits Department is working to develop comprehensive and robust standard operating procedures for inspections.
Julie Quinn-Summerville, a former state legislator, is the defense attorney for both Farrell and Chan.
“Mr. Farrell values his reputation and this community and would never jeopardize his career by doing anything unethical or illegal,” Quinn-Summerville said. “He has been a vocal advocate in rooting out corruption in a neighboring parish’s department of code enforcement, and he is eager to prove that he has never violated any rule, regulation or law.
“Mr. Chan’s number one focus is, and has always been, safety, and he stands by his work and his inspection at this property,” she added.
A WWL-TV investigative series called “Hidden Dangers” showed how private, third-party inspectors were performing the majority of inspections on behalf of local governments in the New Orleans area, with almost no oversight.
When WWL-TV requested third-party inspection reports from Jefferson Parish for the series, the agency denied the request by saying the records were part of a pending criminal investigation.
The station also used New Orleans city vehicle tracking data to show that the city’s own in-house inspectors, working under Chan’s direction, had failed to show up at more than a third of all inspections they claimed to have performed.
Audits by the city of New Orleans identified several cases where IECI inspectors appeared to submit falsified photographs of fixtures or even whole houses to make it appear they were showing up for inspections. The city even banned IECI inspector James Mohamad in 2019 for allegedly falsifying inspection photographs, even while Mohamad was serving as director of the city of Kenner’s permitting office.
WWL-TV also reported on Chan’s suspected involvement in falsifying inspection reports. Chief Administrative Officer Gilbert Montano said he suspended Chan on Sept. 16, 2019, because he had been “implicated” in an ongoing criminal probe of the permitting office. Earlier that same day, Chan had led a meeting of all city inspectors warning them that they were being tracked and must file their own photographs of construction work when they perform inspections.
Montano said he believed Chan was simply trying to cover his tracks.
Less than a month after that meeting, the Hard Rock Hotel project collapsed, killing three workers. WWL-TV discovered that three city inspectors failed to show up for inspections they claimed to have done on the construction work there.
And shortly after that, a former city inspector who worked under Chan pleaded guilty in federal court to fabricating inspection reports, taking unlawful pay-offs and paying another city employee to approve his falsified inspections.
Chan retired from the city while under suspension and continued working as a private inspector for IECI.