Not even last week’s earthquake could get in the way of two D.C. government inspectors accepting a bribe, according to the FBI.
Just minutes after the historic quake rattled Washington on Aug. 23, the FBI said, the two inspectors huddled in a 10-story apartment complex in Southwest Washington with one of the building’s representatives. They said they could help the man and his firm avoid massive fines, perhaps even jail time, for environmental infractions. All it would take, the inspectors said, was some compensation.
With a hidden FBI video camera recording the meeting, the representative handed over $2,500 to each man. On Thursday, they accepted $15,000 more, federal authorities said. The inspectors were then arrested by federal agents on a charge of receiving a bribe.
After a brief hearing Friday in the District’s federal court, the two inspectors, Joe L. Parrish, 51, and Gregory A. Scott, 59, were released on their own recognizance. They face up to 15 years in prison if convicted.
Ronald C. Machen, the District’s U.S. attorney, said the case was significant because “these guys, as alleged, were trying to shake down contractors in order to not report alleged environmental violations. . . . They are people that had [the] ability to affect the policies of the District in respect to environmental regulations. They are public officials and people of importance.”
A spokesman for the D.C. Department of the Environment did not respond to a reporter’s question by press time. Heather Shaner, an attorney for Parrish, said her client “is a longtime employee of the city and hopefully these allegations will be resolved shortly. He is a family man.” Scott’s attorney, Carlos Vanegas, could not be reached.
Scott and Parrish are environmental protection specialists in the Department of the Environment’s air quality division, permitting and enforcement branch, according to federal authorities and court papers made public Friday.
The alleged shakedown started Aug. 16, when Scott visited a 10-story apartment building in Southwest Washington where asbestos had been discovered during a lengthy and ongoing renovation process, federal authorities said.
Scott inspected the building and even took samples and photographs, according to court papers filed by the FBI. He then told a contractor that he had “observed serious violations concerning improper handling and containment of hazardous asbestos,” an FBI agent wrote.
That same day, Scott’s boss, Parrish, contacted the contractor to stress that “serious asbestos issues” needed to be addressed, the FBI said.
Shortly after those interactions, representatives of the company that owns the building contacted the FBI and the D.C. Office of Inspector General to report a potential solicitation of a bribe. Within days, agents and city investigators had launched a probe, according to an owner of the company who requested anonymity because he may be a witness in the case.
On Aug. 23, a representative of the company visited the Southwest apartment building to meet with the inspectors and see whether they would take a bribe, the owner said. The FBI had given the man $5,000 to give to the inspectors and told him to encourage the men to count the cash, the owner said.
The entire transaction was to be recorded on a hidden video camera in the representative’s possession.
During the meeting in an apartment, the inspectors told the representative that “based on their calculations” the building’s fines for environmental violations might exceed $20,000 a day, federal authorities said. The inspectors also noted that criminal penalties might apply.
The men said, however, that they would be willing to “burn” their report and not inform their office’s attorneys about the infractions if they were paid, according to the FBI.
The representative then handed the $5,000 in cash, which one of the inspectors counted before leaving the building, court papers show.
On Thursday, the representative met with the inspectors again — this time in an apartment that had been wired for sound and video by the FBI. Shortly after accepting $15,000 in FBI funds, the two men were arrested.
Staff researcher Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.