State inspectors arrested for taking cash to ignore restaurant health code violations

May 9, 2012

Restaurant inspection reports are the public records de jour for Jacksonville media these days - creating searchable databases and weekly features showing their readers and viewers which restaurants are infested with roaches and have slime in the ice machine. A failed inspection can destroy a business' reputation, even force the restaurant to close until the conditions can be brought back up to code. Now, police say two local inspectors were using the threat of a failed inspection-- and all of its gory details -- to line their own pockets, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Former sanitation and safety specialists Moses Davis Jr. and Steven Rivera were arrested in Jacksonville last week and charged with accepting unlawful compensation for official behavior. Each faces up to 15 years in prison on the second-degree felony charge. Both men have been fired by the state.

A tip to police last fall launched an investigation that led to at least 17 businesses that had paid one of the two men to ignore violations, according to the Times-Union. The inspectors would ask for between $100 and $300 not to write down violations they found, the newspaper reported, though police are still getting a handle on how much money the two men took in bribes. To make the arrest, police set up Rivera and Davis, sending them to two separate restaurants where the owners were working with police. Rivera took $200 from one business and Davis took $100 - all marked police bills, according to the newspaper report. Both places had blatant health violations, yet both inspectors noted they found none. Police have not named the businesses and said they don't plan to file charges because the restaurants were coerced into the scheme, the newspaper reported. While it may have been the inspectors who brought up the bribe, it does -- as the saying goes -- take two to tango. The state may be choosing not press charges on business owners because they cooperated with the investigation. That type of selected enforcement happens regularly. But paying a bribe is paying a bribe, period.

From the perspective of a Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney, deposing the restaurant owners themselves will be critical. What were the violations they didn't want anyone to know about? What is the financial loss for being closed a day? Why did they pay the inspectors if they knew it was wrong? Kickbacks are a two-way street. After all, you need someone to kick something back to someone else. It's easy to blame the state official who has the power, but neither of the two men would be receiving money if the restaurant employees did not agree to pay them. At its core, this case is similar to hundreds our Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer has worked on over the years with multiple defendants. People point the finger at each other to get a better deal for themselves. In many cases, one or more people end up working with police and will end up with a better sentence or, in rare cases, have charges dismissed. That element is at play in this case; only the restaurant owners appear to have been given immunity right out of the gate.

If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm, PA at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Duval County violent crimes lawyer is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.