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Former Oakland Building Inspector Fined Over $300,000 For Dozens Of Bribery, Ethics Violations

OAKLAND (BCN) – A former building inspector was fined more than $300,000 by the Oakland Public Ethics Commission following an investigation into allegations of bribery among other ethics violations, commission officials announced last week.

Thomas Espinosa was fined $309,600 after the commission found he committed 47 violations of the Oakland Government Ethics Act. The violations included bribery, failing to report income, misusing city resources, conflict of interest, and misusing a city position, according to the commission.

Espinosa worked for the city as a specialty combination inspector in the Code Enforcement Division of the Oakland Planning and Building Department from 2005 to 2016, commissioners said. Managers of the Planning and Building Department in early 2016 had concerns about Espinosa's behavior and reported those to the ethics commission. That led to an investigation and then to a decision Sept. 17.

"This case is, by far, the most extensive and egregious activity ever investigated by the Public Ethics Commission," said commission Chair Michael MacDonald in a statement.

"The evidence in this case showed a pattern of intentional behavior for personal gain at the expense of the City, property owners, and the public, justifying maximum-level penalties of $5,000 or up to three times the amount unlawfully received, for each violation," MacDonald said.

Espinosa left his position after he was interviewed by ethics investigators, according to commissioners. Following the investigation, a report was made to the commission in 2018, and an administrative hearing was conducted in April.

The investigation found that Espinosa used his position to secure cash for himself in exchange for passing inspections or providing permits to property owners, according to commissioners. Sometimes an accomplice helped Espinosa, commissioners said.

In one instance, Espinosa covered up a life-safety issue at an apartment complex, commissioners said. According to the commission, Espinosa also convinced investors or property owners to hire and pay him as either a consultant, business partner or building contractor.

Espinosa's behavior represented a conflict of interest, commission officials said, adding that he failed to report these conflicts to the city as legally required.

At a special June meeting of the ethics commission, which was held via Zoom, commissioners were ready to decide on the penalty in the case when they heard from a caller who said he was Thomas Espinosa. The caller said he had a stroke two years ago and had no recollection of anything before 2018 or 2019.

He said he did not know what the Oakland Public Ethics Commission was, but he referred to a letter he received the day before the meeting.

He added that he had no memory of working anywhere and doctors had placed him in a trailer at his mother's home.

The caller referred to a letter from a doctor that said he (the caller) is not capable of testifying in court because of a memory impairment.

The ethics commission delayed action at the June meeting. Commissioners asked their staff to provide more information at a later meeting about the caller's assertions of a medical impairment.

Former building inspector Anthony Harbaugh participated with Espinosa in the scheme, according to the commission, and earlier this year Harbaugh was fined $55,000 by the commission, following an investigation.

Attempts to reach Espinosa on Thursday were unsuccessful.

The San Francisco office of the FBI would neither confirm nor deny they are investigating Espinosa.

© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. and Bay City News Service. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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