Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Engineers probe homes flap

Regulatory body to weigh in on alleged blueprints fraud

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Engineering regulators have launched a formal investigation to determine who forged a seal on blueprints for several Winnipeg homes.

Manitoba's Association of Professional Engineers has decided to probe who falsified blueprints for Hollywood Homes Inc.'s properties on Pritchard Avenue, Bowman Avenue and Chevrier Boulevard. City officials recently revoked the company's building permits for the three homes after they discovered submitted drawings were deliberately altered to indicate they were approved by an engineer.

Families are currently living in two of the homes. Arnel Mercado's family is one of them. Mercado said he thought there were no issues with his home at 695 Pritchard Ave. until he decided to renovate the basement in November. When he applied for a permit, he said, a city inspector told him the home never had a final inspection of its construction.

Hollywood Homes Inc. owner Dave Haner alleged he purchased the blueprints with a false engineering seal from a city building inspector.

City of Winnipeg building inspector Sig Steinhilber does freelance design work for InterPro Building Design Service, a local company registered to his wife.

Haner's allegations have not been proven, and the city is investigating the matter.

Professional standards officer Michael Gregoire said the regulatory body decided to launch its own investigation last week due to the seriousness of the allegations. He said regulators started to receive enough information to examine who forged the seal, though he declined to comment on the specifics of the probe.

Gregoire said any action the association takes will be done through the courts. An individual found guilty could be charged with fraud or fined up to $20,000.

"The difficulty is trying to gather information to pinpoint who forged the signature," he said. "That's the challenge."

Gregoire would not speculate on how long an investigation may take, saying these types of allegations are rare.

To date, no one in Manitoba has been convicted of falsifying an engineer's seal.

Meanwhile, the city is investigating concerns about building-code compliance on one or more of the occupied properties, allegations regarding misuse of professional engineering seals and potential conflict of interest of a city employee.

The City of Winnipeg requires employees to disclose any potential conflict of interest, though officials do not have a way to track how many employees have made such a disclosure to their supervisors or department heads. According to Winnipeg's code of conduct, employees should not engage in any outside business that could interfere with or impair the ability to carry out their civic duties.

Other cities, such as Calgary and Toronto, have similar policies that stipulate employees should avoid involvement with outside interests that conflict with their civic duties.

jen.skerritt@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 6, 2013 B1

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