An employee of the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety has filed a whistleblower suit against the city, alleging his speaking out against corruption caused him to be marginalized, denied the resources needed to run his division and prevented from making career advancements.
Zachary De Corse’s Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit seeks unspecified damages. A representative of the City Attorney’s Office said his office would have no comment on the suit brought Thursday.
De Corse was hired by the LADBS in December 2010 and was promoted in 2017 to senior management analyst 2 over the department’s administrative services division, which at that time included the purchasing section, the facilities management section and the contract administration section, the suit states.
The sections were responsible for a variety of functions in support of LADBS operations, including review and approval of departmental purchasing requests and processing of purchase orders for approved requests, according to the complaint.
According to the suit, under the leadership of General Manager Frank Bush and Executive Officer Osama Younan from 2016-20 and then of General Manager Osama Younan from 2020 to the present, the department has “followed prior LADBS General Manager Raymond Chan’s example of misappropriating city funds, using their positions to attempt to benefit their friends, and covering up fraud and misappropriation.”
Chan, a former head of LADBS who later served as a deputy mayor overseeing economic development for former Mayor Eric Garcetti in 2016 and 2017, is scheduled to go on trial Feb. 21 on federal charges of conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act by allegedly shaking down developers in exchange for getting their projects approved.
De Corse alleges he is “just one of multiple LADBS employees who has gotten caught in the crosshairs of the department’s unlawful practices under Bush and Younan.”
According to the suit, De Corse’s “refusal to acquiesce to corrupt practices within the LADBS and his opposition to such practices” prompted Younan and Bush to launch “a campaign to marginalize plaintiff both within LADBS and in the greater city as a whole, deny him the resources necessary to run his division, systematically strip him of his responsibilities and supervisory authority and ultimately derail his career as a city employee.”
Knowing that the department would soon be undergoing a bidding process for the remodel of the first floor of Figueroa Plaza, Younan pressured De Corse to award the bid for that project to Jamik Construction & Management, a company that Younan described to the plaintiff as Younan’s “friend of 20 years, or words to that effect,” the suit states.
When bids were received in January 2017 and Jamik’s bid was not the lowest, Younan repeatedly changed the scope of the project and asked for bid resubmissions in order to attempt to get Jamik’s bid to be the cheapest, the suit states.
When Younan learned Jamik had not submitted a bid during the last round, he instructed De Corse to call Jamik directly to find out what had happened, but the plaintiff refused, saying it was not appropriate to call Jamik, the suit states.
In refusing to call Jamik and to accept the company’s late bid, De Corse avoided participating in what would have been a violation of the City Charter — which requires fairness to all bidders — and the Municipal Code, the suit states.
In retaliation, Younan revoked management’s previously-granted approval to fill a vacant supervisory position in De Corse’s division, creating an undue burden on his ability to ensure that it could continue to fulfill its responsibilities, the suit states.
In August 2018, Younan imposed restrictions on De Corse’s ability to hire part-time staff, requiring that resumes go through Younan’s assistant and that Younan pre-approve any hires, eventually removing the plaintiff from the entire interview and selection process for part-time staff in his own division, the suit states.
Despite the department’s failure to protect De Corse from retaliation, he continued to abide by the law and in June 2018 he told auditors from the City Controller’s Office about what he believed were questionable transfers from the LADBS Building Permit Enterprise Fund to the mayor’s office in 2016 as well as furniture, computers and other equipment bought with money from the same fund, the suit states.
The Controller’s Office’s audit eventually uncovered millions of dollars in fraud by LADBS employees in the Technology Services Bureau, which Chan created in 2014 in order to move procurement of IT-related services and products out of the division De Corse later supervised, the suit states.
In April 2020, De Corse was prevented from communicating with the mayor’s office, with whom he had previously spoken to several times a month since 2017, further marginalizing the plaintiff by reducing his exposure to key city staff and decision-makers, the suit states.
In February 2022, another senior management analyst I position was removed from De Corse’s division, according to the suit, which further states that in December the LADBS passed over De Corse for a promotion to chief management analyst position even though he was the most qualified candidate for the position.
De Corse continues to suffer physical, mental and emotional injuries as well as shock, humiliation and indignity because of the way he has been treated by management, the suit states.