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Mobtown Beat

Wise Elder?

Engineer With Criminal Record and Links to Collapses Back At Work

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 4/30/2008

John D. Elder is once again an engineer in good standing.

The professional engineer, whose criminal record and connection to several building collapses were the subject nearly two years ago of a City Paper article ("Collapse," Feature, August 2, 2006), agreed to a 120-day license suspension last August after the state agency that oversees engineers, the Maryland State Board for Professional Engineers, concluded that he perjured himself repeatedly by failing to disclose his criminal record on his license-renewal applications as required ("Open Perjury," Quick and Dirty, Sept. 12, 2007).

At the time, a source close to the board said that Elder would not likely be getting his license back because he still faced sanction for his involvement in four building collapses and had not paid his 2007 state income taxes. The source, who asked not to be quoted by name because the board cannot comment on open cases, said that the board assumed that, by the time Elder's 120-day suspension lapsed at the end of December, the board would be ready to sanction him again--and that even if that action were delayed that Elder's tax bill would keep him sidelined.

But it did not work out that way.

Elder says he cashed in a $16,000 retirement account to pay about $12,000 in back taxes. Then, in March, he went to the board to ask that his license be reinstated.

"I took my application down there in hand," Elder says. "The first time I took it down they wouldn't give it to me. They wanted another letter saying that nothing had happened in the interim," meaning that Elder had not been arrested on criminal charges. He has not been arrested since 2004, according to online court records. The board agreed to reinstate Elder's engineering license at its April 10 meeting.

Milena Y. Trust, an assistant attorney general at the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation, which the Board for Professional Engineers falls under, will not confirm that the board had expected to end Elder's engineering career. "When the license is suspended for 120 days, that's exactly what it means," she says, adding that there is another case pending that, by law, she and the board cannot discuss. "His license was reinstated. With the ongoing case, again, I cannot comment."

Bob Mead, executive director of Maryland Society of Professional Engineers, expresses surprise that Elder has been reinstated. "I would expect that if what you wrote is true, in the substantive issues, I would expect that that man would lose his license, permanently, and pay a fine," Mead says.

But Elder maintains that he bears no responsibility for the collapses ("No Fault," Quick and Dirty, Nov. 22, 2006). And he says the licensing board agrees with him.

"They did investigate the collapses--everything I told them turned out to be true," Elder says, laying blame for the destruction on the various contractors and homeowners involved. "The people that caused all the collapses, they didn't follow the instructions. People want to cut corners."

Elder says he could not baby-sit his clients to make sure they followed his plans. "I can't be a policeman and go out there and check on people on a daily basis," he says. "I have to rely on people to call me" for inspections.

Trust would not verify that the board has investigated the collapses, citing confidentiality requirements.

Mead suggests another possibility: "It is my understanding that staffing has been an issue in the design-professions cluster," he says.

Harry Loleas, deputy commissioner of occupational and professional licensing at the state Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation, says his division has only 12 of the 16 investigators it is budgeted for, though three of those slots are being recruited. "We have a fair degree of turnover from time to time," he says. "But I will give you an absolute assurance that any vacancy in an investigative position is totally without impact on the standing of the complaint that you've inquired about."

And so John Elder is back in business, at least for now, and no one could or would say when the hearing, if any, will be held regarding the collapse cases.

"It may take them time to verify everything I said," Elder says. "I know one thing, I didn't tell them anything that was incorrect."

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