Bribery investigation documents show costly plumber calls on taxpayers’ dime

Posted at 6:02 PM, Apr 18, 2013

Norfolk, Va. - The bribery scandal sent a wave through city hall. Some in the city had known for a year Norfolk plumber Andrew Zoby was under investigation. He and a former Norfolk city plumbing supervisor admit they conspired to give and get bribes, and defraud the city.

That cost taxpayers around $40,000. But in the perhaps 10,000 pages of plumbing bills the city turned over to the FBI, we found something that might be just as costly. Records that show city workers routinely dispatched an on-call private plumber to jobs where there was little or nothing to do. And you paid for it. For example ...

A Zoby worker was sent to a police detective's men's room. The reason -- a bad odor. The plumbers found no smells, flushed the toilets, and billed the city $81.

At three community gardens, the staff needed the city water turned back on for spring. Two Zoby workers turned it on at the city connection and billed the city $281. An assistant city manager later emailed that city workers could've done that job

On a cold February day, two Zoby workers were sent to the Mermaid Fountain at Nauticus to find out why there was no water. It turned out the city had shut off the water for the winter, and wanted it kept off until spring. The bill: $125.

At Hooters, some toilets backed up. Three Zoby workers were sent to fix them, but found another plumber already there. Service call: $68.

At the Fire Training Center, there was a shower that wouldn't turn off. And these are the actual plumbers' notes: "The shower valve was turned the wrong way." He turned it the right way and billed the city $81.

Last year, while city officials knew Zoby was under federal investigation for bribery, they sent him on so many jobs, both big and small, that plumber hit the contract's $250,000 cap before the end of the year. So city officials added another $100,000 to the contract, and kept giving him work. The work didn't stop until after federal prosecutors charged him with bribery.

NewsChannel 3 asked for someone in charge of the plumbing contract to explain why there were so many calls like these. However, no one in charge of the plumbing would speak to us.

A city spokesperson said Norfolk has 300 buildings and just five plumbers who, she said, can’t do all the work.

The records also show that there were apparently few restrictions on calling the private plumber, no matter how small the job.