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Condo Inspector Under Microscope for What He Knew, and When

Surfside's ex-head building inspector told residents in 2018 the condo seemed to be 'in very good shape'
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 2, 2021 11:49 AM CDT

(Newser) – The difficult work continues for search and rescue teams sifting through the rubble where a Florida condominium complex collapsed last week, which has left at least 20 dead and 128 missing as of Friday morning, per the AP. Now, records show that the former chief building inspector in the city of Surfside had been made aware of a 2018 engineering report indicating major structural issues at Champlain Towers South, yet he told residents after receiving that report that their building was "in very good shape." The Miami Herald reports on an email, seen on the Town of Surfside's website, sent on Nov. 13, 2018, from condo board member Mara Chouela to Rosendo "Ross" Prieto, then the town's head building official. Included with the email were two reports: a mechanical and electrical engineering report dated Oct. 5 of that year, indicating some repairs were needed, and an Oct. 8 report from Morabito Consultants that warned of "major structural damage" caused by faulty waterproofing.

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Two days after Chouela sent Prieto those reports, the condo association's board met, and NPR has minutes from that meeting that note: "Structural engineer report was reviewed by Mr. Prieto. It appears the building is in very good shape." A resident who says she was at that meeting tells the outlet she recalls attendees being told the building was sound. On Saturday, however, Prieto told the Herald he didn't remember receiving that email or reading the report. "I don’t know anything about it. That's 2018," he said. Per the New York Times, Prieto, who has more than a quarter century under his belt as a building and roofing inspector for a half-dozen Florida cities, was the inspector who made several site visits in 1997 to a dog track near Miami that was being demolished. The building collapsed during the demolition, and two people died. Meanwhile, the AP reports that Prieto is now on a leave of absence from his current job, a temporary position with a consulting company providing services for the city of Doral. The cause of the Surfside condo's collapse is still being investigated. (Read more Florida condo collapse stories.)

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