Please note: This article is published as an archive copy from Philadelphia City Paper. My City Paper is not affiliated with Philadelphia City Paper. Philadelphia City Paper was an alternative weekly newspaper in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The last edition was published on October 8, 2015.

September 21–28, 2000

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Once A Cop…

Licenses & Inspections Commissioner Ed McLaughlin used to be a cop. And some say he acts as if he still works for the Philadelphia Police Department.

When police officers are unable to obtain a search warrant of a property, they routinely ask L&I to stage a surprise inspection of the building, sources say. Police officers are then able to "accompany" L&I inspectors on to the property, as a roundabout means of obtaining access. In other cases, L&I inspectors enter a property on their own, and then report back to the police.

A highly publicized raid of a puppet studio — where activists were constructing props to use during Republican National Convention protests — was pulled off at the request of the police.

When L&I showed up at 1307 Sansom Street on the morning of July 21, inspectors said they were responding to an incident of vandalism the previous evening. According to a police report, two men hurled debris from the roof of 1309 Sansom Street on the evening of July 20. It cracked the windshield of a passing police cruiser. That "debris" turned out to be a frozen water balloon.

In order to check out the balloon incident immediately after it occurred, police officers needed to climb onto the roof of the building. A maintenance man working in the property next door, 1307 Sansom Street, allowed officers to walk up six flights of stairs onto the roof, said Don Meginley, a representative for Tony Goldman Properties, which owns 1307 Sansom.

A noticeable sign for the Spiral Q Puppet Theater hung on the door outside the fifth floor landing.

The following morning, L&I officers, led by L&I Deputy Commissioner Dominic Verdi, inspected that building and shut down the puppet studio.

In an interview several days after the raid, McLaughlin acknowledged that his inspectors went to 1307 Sansom at the request of the Philadelphia Police Department. When asked why L&I would investigate a frozen water balloon tossed from a building — particularly since it was hurled from a building next door — McLaughlin said, "I’m not happy about the vagueness in the beginning."

But, he went on, L&I is "at the disposal of our complaint system." If the police department calls and complains about a building, the agency is bound to check it out, he said — just as if a resident reported a crumbling home in the neighborhood.

McLaughlin said his agency was not motivated by politics to inspect the building that housed the puppet studio less than two weeks prior to the Republican convention. "If [the police] did that, that’s on them."

McLaughlin denied that L&I even knew that Spiral Q rented space in the building. In fact, he told City Paper his inspectors believed the building to be vacant.

This seems highly unlikely for two reasons: Police officers who had been inside the building just the night before, and seen it was occupied, asked L&I to inspect it. Secondly, Matthew Hart, director of Spiral Q and a former residential tenant in 1307 Sansom, recalls previous L&I visits.

In addition to Spiral Q, a check cashing business and two residential tenants occupied the building.

When developer Goldman purchased 1307 Sansom (also known as 112 S. 13th St.) from the Samuel Rappaport Estate on Jan. 15, he was given an L&I "statement of certification" verifying that the building had no existing code violations. That document is dated Dec. 2, 1999.

At the same time, Goldman purchased four other buildings along 13th Street from the Rappaport estate. All of them were given "clean" certifications.

It is unusual for buildings as old and neglected as the Rappaport properties to contain zero code violations. However, that is what L&I records showed at the time of their sale.

After L&I inspected 1307 Sansom on July 21 — only eight months after the certifications were issued — inspectors declared the building uninhabitable and cited 25 code violations.

Gwen Shaffer

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