Charlie Mini, Palm Coast’s long-time chief building inspector, resigned last fall in light of an internal investigation that found he was manipulating inspection reports, including signing off on inspections he had not actually performed in person, and favoring one particular contractor over others.
The city’s eight-page investigative report was documented through the permitting database and GPS tracking that showed Mini’s whereabouts, indicating permitting-inspection locations where he did and did not stop.
“The allegations against you are serious,” Wendy Cullen, the city’s human resources director, wrote Mini on Oct. 22, placing him on administrative leave pending the completion of the investigation. “Specifically, it has been alleged that on more than one occasion you have passed inspections without visiting the location and physically performing said inspections.” Mini acknowledged Cullen’s notice. Cullen hand-wrote a note on the notice: “Charlie does not agree with this.”
A month later, Mini resigned, saying he’d enjoyed his time with the city but “decided it is time to explore other opportunities.” (Mini started Charlie Mini started work for the city in March 2006. He was making $69,400 at the time of his resignation. As of June 6, he was still listed as a chief building inspector on the city’s contact page in his name.)
The accusations against Mini were brought forward by two witnesses, according to the investigative report. The allegations and investigation pre-date by a few weeks another similar whistleblower case that led to the disciplining of several city employees, also in the building department, after they had accepted whiskey bottles from a contractor. Several employees were suspended without pay for a few days, one resigned before the completion of the investigation, another resigned subsequent to it, though not necessarily because of it. Both investigations pre-date by months the arrival of City Manager Matthew Morton, taking place during the tenure of Deputy Manager Beau Falgout as interim manager.
The city set up a whistle-blower reporting system through its website that led to at least three internal investigations with consequences for employees. Three months ago, a similar complaint led to the firing of the city’s golf pro at Palm Harbor Golf Club.
Allegations against Mini centered on his relationship with Hernan Longo of Crystal Clear Custom Pools, a company that operates in Flagler, St. Johns and Volusia counties. A whistle-blower reported to the city that Mini “is passing inspections for friend’s pool contracting business immediately after the permits had already been failed by other building inspectors,” according to the internal investigation. The investigation was conducted by Jay Maher, the city’s compliance manager in charge of ethics and contract fraud investigations. The whistle-blower had a list of “many pool construction projects” where that had allegedly taken place.
The same whistle-blower claimed Longo had performed extensive pool work at Mini’s home, free of charge and without permits. Mini denies the allegation, according to the report, and said he did not socialize with Longo beyond being friends on Facebook.
The witness told the investigator he had personal knowledge of the matter because his own pool “was built by Hernan of Crystal Clear Pools and had failed the initial Pool Final inspection because the contractor had installed too small a pump,” the report states. A day or so later, Mini came back and “passed the pool even though no changes had been made to the pool pump.” The witness then claimed that the contractor’s own personal pool had recently failed back-to-back inspections for being built too close to the neighbor’s property. A third inspection was scheduled. It was “cancelled by the contractor so that the Chief Building Inspector would be the one that did the Final Pool inspection.” The contractor needed that passed inspection, the witness told the investigator, because he was trying to sell the house. Mini passed the inspection and the house sold, according to the report.
The investigation includes the account of a state certified pool contractor who reported working for Crystal Pool and performing work totaling $37,000 (for which complained he’d not been paid), and that the company’s owner had told him he has a “Goombah” in the city’s building department who passes inspections for him. The same contractor, who is not named in the investigation, told the investigator that he had himself at times taken pictures of work he’d performed, sent them to Mini, and had Mini pass the inspection based only on those photographs. There were instances where other inspectors had disapproved of work that Mini would then accept. Longo did not respond to a call or an email before this article initially published.
Investigators then proceeded to analyze Mini’s GPS records and permitting documentation through the city’s database. The GPS records went back only three months, so the investigation had to be limited to that time frame. It revealed on various occasions that Mini had either not physically been to inspection locations or merely driven by without stopping, and where a fence would have blocked the view even for a drive-by look at the work meant to be inspected. Mini told investigators that there may have been cases where he was not at a particular inspections, but that he would have conducted in-person inspections there previously. But the investigator did not buy the argument: “A pool deck inspection performed 8 months earlier would not suffice for a Pool Final inspection,” he wrote.
The investigation also found irregularities with a specific electric alarm inspection in the B Section and another pool inspection in the W Section.
Maher concluded that “the basic elements of the complaint that was made are accurate. The investigation reveals that [Mini] did extend special treatment” Crystal Clear, while the investigators “were unable to identify any other contractors for whom [Mini] entered inspection results for permit locations he had not actually visited.” He did so on three occasions that investigators could document. All three had previously been failed by other inspectors. The investigation also found that, within the 90-day period it could analyze, Mini had performed nine other inspections for Crystal Clear, all of which he did perform in person. None were re-inspections. One was failed.
Maher and the “Internal Control Team” concluded “We believe the allegation of Conflict of Interest to be true,” and that the records were falsified four times.