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Housing inspector fired for misconduct

A report says he appears to have steered business to his wife, misused his city vehicle and phone and misspent work hours.

By DAVID KARP
Published November 6, 2003

TAMPA - A city inspector who was a longtime friend of former city housing chief Steve LaBrake was fired Wednesday for misconduct.

City officials terminated Richard Nazaro from his $40,000-a-year job, citing neglect of duty and moral turpitude as reasons for the action.

A report from the Human Resources Department described a situation in which Nazaro appears to have used his connections with a code enforcement officer to steer private business to his wife. It also said Nazaro misused his city vehicle, used his city cell phone for personal use, and spent work hours at home and at property he owned.

City officials had been investigating Nazaro, 57, since June, after they received a complaint from a landlord about a code enforcement officer steering business to Nazaro's wife. In September, investigators staked out Nazaro for two weeks, and said they watched him as he went to his own properties, Home Depot and places outside Tampa city limits on city time.

They also said he used his city cell phone to make personal calls to St. Petersburg, Pasco County and unincorporated Hillsborough County.

Human resources director Sarah Lang said Wednesday that officials had not decided yet whether to refer the issue to police for a criminal investigation.

City officials said they began looking at Nazaro in May when a landlord called the business and housing department to complain about Mike Peterson, a code enforcement officer.

The landlord said Peterson had visited a rental unit at 128 W North St. in Seminole Heights and told the tenant that the residence was unfit for occupancy.

Only months earlier, the unit had been inspected and passed code. It wasn't scheduled to be re-examined until 2005.

Peterson, though, cited the unit for numerous code violations.

According to city officials, Peterson told the tenant about a better rental unit on Branch Avenue that was immediately available for rent.

The owner?

Barbara Nazaro, the wife of the city housing inspector.

The same day, the tenant moved in.

Phone records show that Peterson and Richard Nazaro talked often on city cell phones. It wasn't about city business, though, city officials say.

Officials said they had no reason to talk so often to each other. They worked in different departments, and their duties didn't overlap.

After the investigation started, another code enforcement officer visited the rental unit on North Street in June. He found no code violations.

Lang said they are still investigating Peterson, who makes $45,000 annually in the newly created code enforcement department. No disciplinary action has been taken against him.

Neither Peterson nor Nazaro could not be reached for comment late Wednesday.

Nazaro has described himself as a longtime friend of LaBrake's. In 2002, he loaned LaBrake's then-girlfriend, Lynne McCarter, $14,708 for the $13,714 purchase of adjoining lots in Grant Park.

He described the loan as an act of compassion to help out McCarter and LaBrake, who were under federal investigation for misusing their positions at City Hall.

"They've been abandoned," Nazaro said of McCarter and LaBrake at the time. "I just wanted to help out."

In 2001, records show that Nazaro's wife sold land to the Tampa Hillsborough Action Plan, a nonprofit group at the center of the federal grand jury investigation into LaBrake.

Before working for the city, Nazaro owned a construction company from 1985 to 1997 that did housing renovation work with LaBrake's department. He was hired as a housing inspector in 1999.

- Times staff writer David Karp can be reached at 226-3376 or karp@sptimes.com

[Last modified November 6, 2003, 03:47:10]


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