June 20, 2024

The Nerve Archive

Where Government Gets Exposed

Local Officials Engaging in Shakedowns, Resident Says

code enforcement


At The Nerve, we get tips all the time. Some of our best pieces began life when an anonymous reader or government official called or came by the office to pass along some ghastly story about what a politician or state agency has done with public money. We encourage readers to tell us these things, and they may do so anonymously if they wish.

One of these came to us the other day. We thought we’d ask if our readers have ever heard of – or experienced – the same sort of thing.

Gary (not his real name) owns property in one of South Carolina’s better-known towns. Recently he received a letter from the city’s “code enforcement officer” demanding that he make certain repairs to his property. “It was a two-page list,” he tells me, “and it would have taken tens of thousands of dollars to do all the repairs.”

Soon, Gary says, he got to work on the list, and while he was in his front yard making the requisite repairs, along comes a repairman advertising services that were, surprisingly enough, precisely what he needed. “So I thought, okay. I hired him. Not for every job on the list, but for a big portion of it.”

Some time later, he got another letter about a separate property from the same code enforcement officer. So he called the same repairman to do more jobs.

“I asked the repairman if he knew [he tells me the name of the code enforcement officer], and he tried to sort of avoid the question. He obviously knew the guy, so I pressed him, and eventually he said yeah, he knew him.”

We ask: So you think there was a relationship?

“Absolutely. It seemed clear to me, anyway, that the city’s enforcement officer had given this guy a job. Basically it was, ‘Here, I’m forcing this dude over on such-and-such an address to make a bunch of pointless repairs. Ask him if he’ll hire you, and if he does, I want a cut.’”

Nor, says Gary, was this the first time this has happened. “Years ago, a tenant and I were both cited for having a car without a license tag or safety sticker,” he tells me. “It was my tenant’s car, but they cited us both. A day or two went by, and the owner of an auto salvage business called her and told her he would tow the car away for free.

“Of course, he planned to sell the parts and make a little money. It was obvious what was going on. Some city official told the auto salvage guy they were going to sort of, you know, encourage the owner of a junky old car to get rid of it, and here’s the address. Go and ask and maybe we’ll split the proceeds on the parts.”

At that point Gary did a little research and easily discovered the connection. The owner of the auto salvage business, he says, was the father of the official who cited Gary and his tenant for the improperly credentialed car.

Gary doesn’t want to start a war with local government officials, so he asked to be kept anonymous. But we at The Nerve wonder: Does this sort of thing happen a lot? Have any readers suspected they’ve been the object of government-enabled shakedown operations? Comment below or send us an email at news@thenerve.org.

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