Former Beaufort County inspectors accused of bribery could face trial this year

zmurdock@beaufortgazette.comOctober 5, 2013 

Fourteenth Judicial Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone hopes to try Harold Cosby and Larry Fields within a few months, after prosecuting a death-penalty case that begins this week, according to Solicitor's Office spokesman Daniel Brownstein.

Cosby and Fields were arrested in May 2012 after a monthlong investigation by the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office, which included a sting operation, according to a Sheriff's Office report completed in June 2012. The county inspectors received more than $200,000 in cash and goods over a 12-year period, according to a witness cited in the report.

In return, Cosby and Fields expedited permits and issued final approvals without inspection, the witness claimed.

The report does not say how many buildings went uninspected.

Master Sgt. Brian Baird, who led the Sheriff's Office investigation, said he forwarded information about possible uninspected buildings to county administrator Gary Kubic and building codes director Chuck Atkinson.

Kubic and Atkinson would not comment for this story because the case has not yet been tried.

Charles Macloskie, a Beaufort attorney representing Cosby, would not comment on specifics of the case. An attempt Friday to reach Fields for comment was unsuccessful.

THE INVESTIGATION Baird said the Sheriff's Office investigation began April 19, 2012, after Assistant U.S. Attorney Rhett Dehart passed along information collected while prosecuting a mortgage-fraud case.

The building-code officers in Beaufort County were implicated by Chad McCue, a cooperating co-defendant in Dehart's case, according to the Sheriff's Office report. McCue began working as a contractor and homebuilder in the Lowcountry in the late 1990s and first worked with Beaufort County inspectors in 1999 or 2000, he told investigators.

McCue began giving restaurant gift cards to the inspectors as thanks for small favors, the report said. Those payments grew to regular installments of cash for Cosby and building materials for Fields in exchange for larger favors, such as expediting permits and issuing final approvals without inspection, according to the report.

McCue estimated that he gave Cosby and Fields more than $200,000 in cash and materials over a 12-year period, according to the report.

McCue discussed the payments in recorded phone calls with the two inspectors, Baird said. The investigation included a sting operation to catch Cosby and Fields accepting bribes to issue a signed certificate of occupancy without performing an inspection.

In a recorded phone call May 7, 2012, Fields told McCue he no longer worked for the county, but that he would talk to Cosby about a certificate for a home McCue was building on Loblolly Lane on Hilton Head Island, the report said. Fields agreed to ask Cosby to sign Fields' name on a certificate of occupancy -- which indicates a building's final inspection has been completed -- and backdate it to a time that he still worked for the county, the report said.

Fields retired from the county in 2007 but still worked for the department through April 28, 2012, through a state temporary-employment program, Kubic has said.

On May 8, 2012, McCue met Cosby in his car in the parking lot outside the codes office, where McCue traded $300 in marked $20 bills for a signed certificate of occupancy, according to the report. Baird and Sheriff's Office Cpl. Rich Menendez monitored the exchange, which also was recorded by a hidden video camera worn by McCue, the report said.

The certificate approves an inspection that never occurred, according to the report. It was signed "L Fields" and dated April 13, 2012.

Cosby was arrested two days later, on May 10, 2012, at the codes office; the $300 was recovered from his wallet, according to the report. Fields was arrested at his home the same day.

When arrested, Fields admitted that he did not inspect the home on Loblolly Lane, Baird said. That information was relayed to the building department, and county inspectors inspected the home, Atkinson said.

Eight other building department employees suggested that contractors sometimes gave gifts, such as food around the holidays, Baird said. However, most of the claims could not be substantiated, and most of the businesses involved "were no longer operational."

"Rumors is really what they were," Baird said.

After his arrest, Cosby was placed on administrative leave without pay, Kubic said. He was fired July 9, 2012.

No other employee action was necessary or taken, Kubic said Friday.

PAST SCRUTINY The investigation of Fields and Cosby is not the first time the Beaufort County Building Codes department has come under scrutiny.

In 2007, private inspectors discovered nails and straps were missing from roof trusses in Sun City Hilton Head homes that had been inspected by the county department. Follow-up inspections cost the county $150,000.

The county spent another $15,000 for a review of the building codes department's operations by a California firm. The International Accreditation Service gave the department its national accreditation.


Beaufort County Sheriff's Office report on alleged bribery in Codes Enforcement

Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.

Related content: Beaufort County building-codes director won't be punished for misrepresentation, June 6, 2012 http://www.islandpacket.com/2012/06/06/2093507/beaufort-county-building-codes.html#storylink=cpy

Hiring of Beaufort County building codes director questioned, May 19, 2012 http://www.islandpacket.com/2012/05/19/2075086/hiring-of-beaufort-county-building.html#storylink=cpy

Beaufort County building inspectors accused of taking bribes, May 11, 2012 http://www.islandpacket.com/2012/05/11/2066848/beaufort-county-building-inspectors.html#storylink=cpy

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