Keith Eddings of the Eagle-Tribune, reports the city code inspector accused of selling bogus food safety certificates to employees at restaurants and bodegas resigned on Monday, two weeks after Mayor Daniel Rivera put him on paid leave as the first of the phony certificates was found at Noelia Market on East Haverhill Street.
Also this week, the National Restaurant Association, whose ServSafe program trains and tests millions of employees in food safety nationwide, told the city it will invalidate all 497 certificates that the inspector, Jorge De Jesus, issued in Lawrence over the last five years.
De Jesus issued the licenses on behalf of the Restaurant Association, not the city, but the city requires them from merchants seeking the common victualler license needed to sell food. That made it a conflict of interest for De Jesus to issue even valid certificates in Lawrence, Assistant City Attorney Brian Corrigan said.
City Inspectional Services Director Pat Ruiz said he so far has found 25 ServSafe certificates that he believes De Jesus sold to merchants without putting them through the course and exam required for the certificates, but he said determining the validity of the certificates has been time-consuming and inconclusive. He said a better option is to invalidate all 497 certificates De Jesus issued and require the employees holding them to take the course and pass the test.
Ruiz said the Restaurant Association told him Tuesday that it is notifying the 497 certificate holders this week that their certificates are being revoked, and will offer them the food safety course without charge over the next few weeks. The association could not be reached late Tuesday, but a spokeswoman said last week that it has suspended De Jesus from the ServSafe program pending its own investigation and is taking the issue “very seriously.”
Rivera said the merchants who bought a ServSafe certificate from De Jesus without taking the required course and passing an exam are victims of De Jesus’ scam and would not be punished.
“We’re focusing on the bad actor, not the victims of this,” Rivera said.
De Jesus was a teacher and proctor in the ServSafe program and so had access to the certificates. He was charging merchants as much as $450 for a bogus certificate, Corrigan said. The course lasts just a few hours and typically costs less than $100.
The ServSafe types at the National Restaurant Association, who apparently don’t like to post on blogs like barfblog.com, sent me a note saying:
“DeJesus had an independent business and one of his activities was providing food safety classes. He used some of our ServSafe materials and signed an agreement indicating that he would use them in a responsible and ethical manner. Once we found he was not in compliance with that agreement, he was no longer authorized to use our materials. He was never hired or paid by the Association and was not our employee.”