Former LA Building Dept. official alleges he was fired for reporting fraud

Steve Ongele filed a $1M claim, saying supervisors asked him to cover up financial misconduct

Los Angeles /
Jul.July 06, 2020 11:15 AM
Raymond Chan and Osama Younan
Former L.A. Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan, at left, and current city Department of Building general manager, Osama Younan, at right, who are both named in a complaint filed by Steven Ongele. 

A former city Department of Building and Safety official claims he was fired for reporting fraud and other misconduct at the agency. At one point, the official says, he was told to lower the amount of money the department had allegedly misappropriated to $300,000 from $4 million.

Steve Ongele, the former assistant general manager, is seeking $1 million in damages from the city, according to the Los Angeles Times. The claim names current department chief Osama Younan, his predecessor Frank Bush, as well as former deputy mayor for economic development Raymond Chan, who retired in 2017.

Ongele alleges he was fired in order to send a message to other employees to “not report wrongdoing by the city and its employees,” according to the Times. Ongele managed the department’s Resource Management Bureau from 2011 to 2019.

His complaint references several incidents at the Department of Buildings, including Ongele’s reporting of a series of purchases and falsified invoices within the technology department. In one of them, he claims Younan told him to change a report of the alleged $4 million in misappropriated funds.

Ongele also said that top officials at the department told a city controller auditor that the misconduct was limited to only a handful of employees. Ongele claims he personally called the auditor to tell her otherwise.

Ongele also claims that Chan tried to use department money to pay his staff raises, buy new furniture and computers, and even to finance an “unnecessary” marketing video that benefited one of Chan’s friends, according to the Times. Ongele claims when he pointed out an issue with the video, Chan told him, “remember, I am the deputy mayor.”

Chan’s attorney Harland Braun said Chan did nothing wrong. In January 2019, a report surfaced that indicated Chan had raised tens of thousands of dollars for a charity event from developers seeking city approvals for major projects in Downtown, the Times reported at the time. The information appeared to be related to the FBI’s mounting investigation into Jose Huizar, the once powerful Los Angeles city councilman who was arrested last month and charged with accepting $1.5 million in bribes from several developers. [LAT]Dennis Lynch


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