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Unlicensed engineer uses Alzheimer's patient's stamp to approve sinkhole repairs

County discovered fraud, but didn't tell owners
Posted at 11:24 PM, Dec 11, 2017

HOLIDAY, Fla. — In Florida, professional engineers are required by law to design and inspect sinkhole repairs. But the I-Team found that Pasco officials have accepted inspection reports from an unlicensed engineer as well as from an engineer with dementia — all without notifying homeowners.

Jim Brandenburg says he knew Champion Foundation Repair Inc. made mistakes when the Tampa company fixed his sinkhole home in 2015. What he says he didn't know was that Champion hired Oliver Turzak to monitor the company's work and that the state had revoked Turzak's engineering license the year before.

"I've never met him, no," Brandenburg told the I-Team. "Until you brought it to my attention, I never heard anything about this guy."

Turzak oversaw more than 200 sinkhole repairs for Champion before his 2014 license revocation. The Florida Board of Professional Engineers disciplined him for flawed plans, shoddy work and failing to do a final inspection of another Champion residential repair.

We reached out to Champion but they didn't respond to the I-Team's request for comment. Then we followed Turzak home from his engineering office one afternoon to ask him about sinkhole repairs.

"We don't do any," he told the I-Team.

But Pasco records show Turzak oversaw more than a half-dozen sinkhole repairs after he lost his license. When the I-Team attempted to ask Turzak about one of those jobs, he replied, "'don't know anything about it."

Florida law mandates that engineers submit their sinkhole-repair documents to county officials, but Assistant Pasco County Administrator Don Rosenthal says his staff doesn't inspect sinkhole repairs.

"The county has no liability for anything like that," said Rosenthal. "That's why you hire the engineer."

Rosenthal says the county relies on engineers, who use their official stamp on repair plans, to ensure the work was done properly.

A plans examiner in Rosenthal's office became suspicious after Turzak submitted dozens of plans signed and stamped by retired Palm Harbor engineer James C. Tippens Jr., who rarely left his home after his family says he was diagnosed with dementia.

County records show Tippens' stamp appeared on dozens of building permits and hundreds of inspection reports. The Pasco Sheriff's Office later determined Tippens didn't do that work.

The Tippens family voluntarily surrendered the engineer's license after learning his stamp was used fraudulently. Tippens was later confined to a locked memory-care unit.

Turzak, who denied wrongdoing, wasn't charged in the sheriff's investigation.

Rosenthal defends his office even though employees accepted hundreds of plans from an engineer who seldom came to county offices.

"We notified the sheriff's office, we notified the engineer's board and we notified our inspectors," said Rosenthal.

But not homeowners.

One of them, Jim Brandenburg, didn't appreciate the omission.

"You've got to be kidding me," he told the I-Team. "We need to know. We're the people living in these houses. We're the people that could have the house that could collapse."


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