An FBI sting indicts 13 Philly plumbing inspectors.

I received a call from a friend on March 19, telling me to go online to That is the Web site that has all the local information on the happenings in Philadelphia. The lead story on the site was that 13 plumbing inspectors (all but one) were indicted for racketeering and extortion. The one lone inspector not indicted refused to participate in the illegal activity. Good for him!

The inspectors had code names for the contractors that paid the bribes and those who refused to pay. The ones paying were called the "good guys," the others were called "zeros." The zeros were harassed, delayed on receiving inspections and cited with bogus requirements. All to make their lives miserable. The philosophy was easy — if you paid the inspectors, it cost less money than putting up with their nonsense. They were appealing to the business sense of the plumbing contractor.

The bribe assured that the inspector arrived at the scheduled time. Those who refused to participate could be waiting the entire day, or into the next day, to get an inspection.

Apparently, enough contractors participated in the scam. The report on the Web site indicated that, on average, each inspector took home an extra $20,000-$25,000 per year in unreported income. Plus, they estimate that this had been going on since 1981.

My first thought in reading this story was, "Is $20,000 a year worth possible jail time?" I certainly would be looking for a lot more than $20,000. I guess I would make a greedy criminal. Then again, some idiots hold up a convenience store for $300, again risking jail time. The point is, why become a criminal?

Crime Doesn't Pay

What makes this the most deplorable act is that plumbing inspectors are public servants. We entrust them to protect the public, not steal from the public. Their actions demean the entire concept of plumbing code enforcement.

We have the finest plumbing in the world, largely due to our good plumbing codes. Of course, a good plumbing code serves no purpose unless it is properly enforced. Proper enforcement means legal enforcement. So not only have these inspectors violated our trust, they have endangered our health.

You may be wondering how these inspectors were finally caught with their hands in the cookie jar. The sting operation was done by the FBI. The inspectors received new cars equipped with miniature cameras and voice recorders. The equipment recorded all of the transactions.

It was reported that at least 30 plumbing contractors participated in the payoff scheme. That was upsetting to read. I will ask, "Why would you, as a plumbing contractor, participate in an illegal activity?"

One contractor responded to the media by saying that part of business is tipping for a job well done. He explained that you tip a waitress, you tip many service people for a job well done. If the inspector does a good job, you should tip him like other service people.

I'm sorry, but that is the poorest excuse I have ever heard for participating in an illegal activity. Face it, if you paid the inspector, you committed a crime just like the inspector. You don't tip the tax collector for doing a good job collecting your taxes, do you?

Just like the Johns in prostitution stings, the contractors that were caught making payoffs were also listed in the article. The contractors were not indicted since they were cooperating with the authorities in prosecuting the inspectors. But, they still should be ashamed of themselves.

The real winners are the "zeros." They did not make any illegal payoffs to the inspectors. I wouldn't doubt it if one or more of the zeros turned in the inspectors to the FBI. If you did, my heartfelt congratulations and thanks.

Do The Right Thing

A question that is always raised is, "What would you do in a similar situation?" The answer is very easy, "I would turn them in." So should you.

If you turn in an inspector, it takes time and it costs money. Sure, you can go along with the illegal activity and just walk away that much quicker. But, turning them in is the right thing to do and it is what America stands for. We must diligently protect all of our institutions, including code enforcement. These few bad apples make it unpleasant for the 99-plus percent of good inspectors.

Have I ever turned in an inspector? Yes! It has never been pleasant. To be honest, I always assume that an inspector made a mistake. I will confront them with what I perceive to be the proper way to enforce the code. If they persist, I let them dig a deep hole. Then I go to the authorities.

I have been accused of having a number of inspectors fired. I can easily state that I did not have one inspector fired. They had themselves fired. They committed the infraction, not me. I did what every good citizen does, turned them in to the authorities.

As the old saying goes, "They hung themselves, I just provided the rope."

In all my work in this profession, I have never been approached by an inspector for a bribe. If that ever happened, I would probably go ballistic. I'd probably yell and scream to anyone that listened that the inspector asked for a bribe.

The only way to stop this is to be a zero. Don't participate.

If an inspector ever approaches you for a bribe, hand them the rope. Because they've just hung themselves.