Former Miami-Dade fire inspector arrested in fraud scheme
11/20/2013 2:55 PM
11/20/2013 4:49 PM
As a code enforcement officer for the Miami-Dade fire-rescue department, Jeffrey Warren Lowman inspected apartment buildings and businesses to make sure they followed fire-safety rules.
If they didn’t, he issued violations, giving property owners 30 days to comply or 20 days to appeal before he would come by for a re-inspection to make sure any problems had been fixed.
But Lowman had a secret business on the side, investigators say: He moonlighted as a fire-inspection consultant helping property owners resolve the very citations he issued, in at least one case hiding his true identity from the county finance department charged with collecting fines.
Lowman, 45, was arrested Wednesday for allegedly defrauding taxpayers of $40,000 in fire-code violation penalty fees while enriching himself. He was charged with one count of unlawful compensation, a second-degree felony, and 10 counts each of official misconduct and grand theft, both third-degree felonies.
His attorney, Brian Tannebaum, said Lowman was aware of the investigation and voluntarily surrendered.
“We haven’t seen the evidence from the state,” Tannebaum said. “Once we see it, we will review it and determine what the case entails.”
Lowman resigned in October, after 13 years as a county employee. Before leaving his job, he made nearly $72,000 a year.
Finance department staffers alerted the Miami-Dade inspector general’s office in August that Lowman had submitted questionable affidavits saying property owners had fixed their fire-code violations, according to a statement released by the IG’s office Wednesday.
An investigation by the Miami-Dade police department’s public corruption unit and the state attorney’s office found that Lowman was running a business, Florida Fire Inspection Consultants, out of his house. The company was hired by Americas Property Management Corp., a property management firm, for $3,000 to resolve violations at a Medley warehouse complex. The violations ranged from not having proper handrails to not maintaining fire hoses.
Investigators say Lowman called the finance department and represented himself as a consultant for Americas, “while hiding his true identity” as a Miami-Dade fire rescue code-compliance officer.
“Over the phone, he told the Finance Department employees that he was working with Fire Inspector Lowman on resolving the outstanding violations,” the IG’s statement said. “The Finance Department employee then corresponded via email with Lowman, both at his [fire-rescue] email and Lowman’s private business email, unaware that it was the same individual.”
In January, investigators said, Lowman submitted 10 fraudulent affidavits saying properties had fixed their fire-code violations — which they had — within the 30-day period — which they hadn’t.
“Therefore, Lowman’s fraudulent affidavits removed a combined $40,000 in accrued penalties owed the county,” the statement said.
Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle, Police Director J.D. Patterson and interim Inspector General Patra Liu noted that their agencies worked together on the investigation and said Lowman’s arrest puts public employees on notice that they cannot bilk taxpayers.
Liu also thanked the employees who reported Lowman’s suspicious actions.
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