After the FBI searched the New Orleans Plumbing and Water Department on November 5, City Hall prevented that department’s chief, Jay Arnold, from obtaining permits to repair and install gas pipes. His private license as a master gas fitter was suspended, his active gas permits were frozen, and the S&WB suspended him from his job for $ 104,028.
But within a few weeks someone was using Arnold’s online permit account to change the name of dozen of their open gas permits, and even one closed permit, as well as some of their expired permits. This raises concerns about changing public records, which could constitute a violation of Louisiana law.
The changes to the town hall database also created a headache for some homeowners waiting for gas work on their construction and repair projects and requiring approval of the work under Arnold’s original permits.
WWL-Fernsehen has been monitoring Arnold’s permits for months as part of his investigations into proprietary transactions by plumbers, plumbing inspectors, and municipal gas inspectors. It found 82 of Arnold’s permits and three of his expired gas installer licenses were changed to William Hohensee in the 10 days leading up to Thanksgiving.
“Any changes from the original applicant were made externally by the web account owner, Jay Arnold, or someone on their behalf,” said Beau Tidwell, administration spokesman for Mayor LaToya Cantrell. “Regardless of the information change, all permissions associated with this account are disabled. Although the system always assigns the web permits to the original applicant, the information has been restored to the original applicant. “
SWBNO officials said they are cooperating with the FBI.
Tidwell said the name was only changed in the public database, not in the underlying permit applications or inspection documents.
But Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, said all public records that are available to the public are public and should not be tampered with without proper authorization.
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“If they have been changed, any public record that has been changed is a state crime,” Goyeneche said. “This is an evolving investigation, but if so [Arnold] played a role in the obfuscation or alteration of the records of this investigation, this could prove problematic for him. “
Arnold didn’t answer phone calls for comment this week.
Hohensee, whose name was put on Arnold’s permits and licenses, works for Mudbug Plumbing and Repair of Metairie. City hall said he does not have a gasfitter license in New Orleans and is not allowed to take Arnold’s licenses and permits.
The owner of Hohensee and Mudbug, Danny Bolner, did not respond to requests for comment.
Arnold has often signed contracts with Mudbug’s letterhead for others to do work on his gas permits. His New Orleans driver’s license has the same address as Mudbug’s.
In a case where Arnold signed a mudbug contract to hire an unlicensed plumber to install gas pipes, property owners are now struggling to complete the construction of their home. The owners, who asked not to be featured in this story, said they tried to fire Arnold as a gas fitter for their project when they heard of an FBI raid on his offices at S&WB.
They said their contractor directed them to submit papers to City Hall to replace Arnold as the permit holder. They tried to do this, but were stopped again when the town hall informed them that the permit was now in Hohensee’s name. They wrote another letter on November 24th to replace Hohensee as a gas fitter, whom they had never heard of and who they didn’t know was involved in their project.
Apparently at least 80 other property owners are now waiting for certificates of completion for work that was carried out as part of the Arnold gas permits, which were later renamed Hohensee.
Ghassan Korban, executive director of S&WB, said his agency changed its policies to ensure suspended employees no longer have access to records in the plumbing department.
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