NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. — In what could be a serious safety concern for thousands in our area, hundreds of building inspections and permits in Pasco county are fraudulent.
The Pasco County Building Department has known about it for years, but they decided not to re-inspect all of them, or even tell the people impacted.
As retired engineer James Tippens' memory faded with Alzheimer's disease, Pasco County building records showed he signed and stamped nearly 150 permits and inspections in 2015 alone.
“This is a fluke,” said Assistant Pasco County Administrator Don Rosenthal, who oversees Pasco County’s Building Department.
Rosenthal confirmed that other people were using Tippens’ name and stamp.
A Sheriff’s Office investigation indicates detectives found six stamps with Tippens' name and engineering number in other people's offices.
Here's why it's a big deal: take a new roof, for example; the county doesn’t have to inspect one, if they see approval from an engineer.
But if it's not up to code, it could collapse, hurting people and letting their insurance company off the hook.
Mercedes Mestauskas notarized some of the fraudulent inspections.
She admitted she didn’t know Tippens, but said her husband previously worked with David Renczkowsi, who authorities believe was using Tippens’ stamp.
Renczkowski is not a licensed engineer, but he currently faces several felony charges including practicing engineering without a license.
“I did not use his stamp because I never possessed his stamp,” Renczkowski said after a recent court hearing.
He said Tippens tamped inspections and plans for him because he was once employed by his firm.
Rensczkowski's business card lists Tippens as vice president of his company.
At the same time, Tippens was also listed as vice president of the Johnson-Frye-Turzak engineering firm.
Detectives never arrested Oliver Turzak, but they do say he used Tippens' seal on multiple sinkhole repairs, since he lost his own license for doing shoddy work.
The state permanently revoked Turzak’s license after building officials reported the fraud scheme.
Turzak denied doing any sinkhole repairs after his license was suspended, but we found multiple cases in which he inspected the repairs and Tippens’ name was listed on the documents.
“It would at least be good to know if they are filing it, that someone is checking that they are in good standing,” said Katrina R. Miglieta, who purchased a home in which Tippens and Turzak were shown to have overseen the repair.
It was not only individual houses that got the fraudulent inspections.
Tippens’ stamp was used on permits for a charter school, a gymnastics studio and development plans for entire subdivisions.
Back in 2016, when this fraud first came to light, records show the county considered notifying everyone affected and providing free inspections.
But the county never re-checked dozens of the projects, including inspected roofs and sinkholes.
“For the majority of people, it doesn't mean anything,” said Rosenthal.
He said any violations of the building code would have been caught during final inspections, before the county issued a certificate of occupancy for the buildings.
When we asked why those projects never got a second look, he indicated he didn’t think there was enough danger to warrant it.
“I think the question should be are those homes relatively safe? And my answer would be yes, unless there's something that would indicate that they're not,” Rosenthal said.
This is a list of the suspected fraudulent permits and inspections in Pasco county.
And if you find your home or business listed, give the Pasco County Building Department a call.
If you have a story you’d like the I-Team to investigate, contact us here.