Beaufort County building inspectors accused of taking bribes

pdonohue@beaufortgazette.comMay 11, 2012 

Harold Cosby and Larry Fields

Two Beaufort County building inspectors were arrested Thursday for allegedly accepting cash and other perks and issuing building permits on properties they never inspected.

An undercover investigation launched last month into the county's Building Codes Enforcement department found that Larry Fields, 61, of Seabrook, and Harold Cosby, 66, of Shell Point, solicited and accepted money and other goods in exchange for building permits, according to the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office.

Sheriff P.J. Tanner declined to say how much money and what other items Fields and Cosby were given for the permits, citing the ongoing investigation into the two men and the department. He also would not provide the locations of the properties in question or say how Fields and Cosby had allegedly accepted bribes.

"We plan to release all of that information at the conclusion of our investigation, but we aren't releasing any of that right now," Tanner said.

Fields and Cosby were each charged with one felony count of "offering, giving, soliciting, or receiving anything of value to influence action of public employee, member or official," according to authorities.

They were released Friday from the Beaufort County Detention Center on their own recognizance, according to the jail log.

The investigation that led to Thursday's arrests was prompted by a tip from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Charleston, which had uncovered allegations of impropriety within the department during the course of a "long-term and unrelated federal fraud investigation," according to a Sheriff's Office news release.

Tanner said he could not rule out additional charges against Fields and Cosby or say that other employees would not be charged.

"We've got a lot of people to interview and a lot of work ahead of us," Tanner said. "I can't tell you, 'That's all,' because that would be premature."

County administrator Gary Kubic said Fields formally retired from the county five years ago but worked for the department until April 28 through a state temporary-employment program.

Cosby, who was arrested at a county office, has worked for the county for about 15 years. He was placed on administrative leave without pay following his arrest, Kubic said.

Kubic pledged the county's cooperation with the investigation.

"I've instructed my staff to cooperate fully with the Sheriff's Office investigation into this illegal activity and provide investigators with whatever help they need," he said.

County Council Chairman Weston Newton said he was unaware of the investigation until Kubic told him Thursday night about the imminent arrests of the two inspectors.

"I was extremely disappointed to hear" of the arrests, Newton said.

Tanner said other county workers found to have acted improperly could face similar charges.

The building department last came under scrutiny in 2007 after homes in Sun City Hilton Head were found to have improperly installed roof trusses. Despite the problems, county inspectors had approved the homes for occupancy.

The county spent $150,000 to re-inspect trusses in 2,749 homes in the community. Trusses in nearly 670 homes needed repairs.

To restore public confidence, the county paid a California firm $15,000 to review the department's operations and recommend improvements. The department was awarded "accreditation" from the firm in 2010, although questions had arisen about the thoroughness of the firm's review.

County officials at the time said the accreditation showed the department had turned around.

Reporter Anne Christnovich contributed to this article.

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