City duo accused of taking favors

The fire inspectors also will be quizzed on charges of turning in false time sheets.

By ABBIE VANSICKLE, Times Staff Writer
Published December 15, 2007

TAMPA - Two city fire inspectors are under investigation, accused of violating city policy by falsifying time sheets and accepting favors from a sprinkler system company.

Inspectors Toy Pelaez and Manuel Perrone, longtime employees in the Fire Marshal's Office, both received gifts from AES, a sprinkler system company, according to a notice of disciplinary action released Friday. Both men were in charge of reviewing and regulating the company's work plans and permits, according to the notice.

Perrone, 44, is accused of using a 30-foot Sea Ray boat made available by AES president Greg Thomas. The inspector also is accused of accepting concert and hockey tickets from AES and entry fees for golf tournaments.

Pelaez, 47, is accused of accepting, three or four times in one year, hockey tickets bought by AES or its employees. He also is accused of calling an AES employee to ask for hockey tickets, according to the disciplinary notice.

AES attorney John Lauro said the company would cooperate completely with any investigation and has not been accused of wrongdoing.

Neither Perrone nor Pelaez could be reached for comment. Their collective bargaining agreement bars them from speaking publicly about the case, according to a statement from fire officials.

Time cards for both men show discrepancies, the disciplinary notice said. The times submitted do not match those recorded by tracking devices in their city vehicles, the notice said.

Perrone's time card showed he was at work when his vehicle locator put him at Starbucks and at La Tropicana restaurant in Ybor City, according to a report released Friday.

Pelaez's time card showed he was at work when his vehicle locator put him at the West Tampa Sandwich Shop, the report stated.

A predisciplinary hearing is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Dec. 17.

According to a time line released to reporters, the investigation began more than a year ago, when Fire Marshal Todd Spear notified fire Chief Dennis Jones of the accusations.

An investigation by the Tampa Police Department found no criminal wrongdoing, said police spokeswoman Laura McElroy.

On Dec. 12, six fire inspectors were interviewed in connection with the allegations. Fire officials declined to comment on whether any other inspectors will be accused of policy violations.

Fire Chief Jones addressed reporters late Friday afternoon.

"I certainly think that something like this is an embarrassment," he said.

He said he was confident that building safety had not been compromised by the men's actions.

Fire officials had only been able to reach one of the two employees, Pelaez. Jones said Pelaez "took it okay."

But local union president Larry Parker said the inspector was "not doing real well."

Parker said he had reviewed the accusations and that from what he could tell, they seemed minor and "nitpicky."

He and a union attorney will attend Monday's hearings, he said.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Abbie VanSickle can be reached at vansickle@sptimes.com or 813 226-3373.