The case of the busy, deceased architect
Draftsman fined for designing 28 buildings while allegedly pretending to be his dead former boss
By Erika Slife, Hal Dardick and Carlos Sadovi, Tribune staff reporters. Tribune reporters Mickey Ciokajlo and Brendan McCarthy contributed to this report
Published May 3, 2005
Emil L. Larson would have been 104 years old in 2001, so state regulators found it unlikely when drawings for new construction were submitted that year with his name on them.
On paper, Larson had been a prolific architect into his 90s and 100s--his name or seal was on 28 projects, from new houses and six-flats to commercial space.
In fact, Larson had died in 1993 at the age of 96 in Arizona, where he had lived for about 25 years. But the buildings kept coming because someone else was using his name, architectural license and stamp to submit drawings, according to state documents.
John Pavlovich, 67, of Lake Forest, a draftsman who allegedly appropriated his former boss' professional identity, was hit with a $250,000 state fine, the largest against an individual that Department of Financial and Professional Regulation officials could recall Monday.
The alleged scheme was uncovered in 2001 and has been working its way through regulators and hearing rooms ever since.
"The story was very sad, I thought," said Steven Weiss, an architect who testified in 2003 that Pavlovich's drawings required the stamp of a licensed architect. "This guy didn't have any other way to make a living other than doing this."
When suspicious investigators stopped by Pavlovich's Lake Forest office, Pavlovich explained that Larson was away on vacation, according to a recent report on the matter.
When the inspectors came back a second time, Pavlovich said Larson was in Mexico and wanted to retire. In 2001, he turned over Larson's seal and license, according to the state.
Pavlovich's attorney is fighting the allegations and the fine, saying the state is being excessive and the buildings are sound.
Pavlovich was employed by Larson in the late 1960s or early 1970s, according to state documents.
Between October 1996, when Pavlovich allegedly renewed Larson's license, and June 2001, when state officials became suspicious, Pavlovich allegedly drew up plans for 28 projects.
He apparently used designs crafted by his onetime boss. "The buildings structurally were recycled plans Larson had actually designed, primarily from the '50s and '60s," said Susan Hofer, spokeswoman for the Department of Professional Regulation.
"Larson designed a lot of buildings and Pavlovich was basically redoing the facades and the exteriors. The plans themselves were structurally sound because they had been done by a real architect."
The Chicago Building Department approved all of the plans submitted by Pavlovich for the 28 structures, Hofer said.
"We believe that when the fraud was discovered a couple years ago that the buildings were inspected at the time, but right now we are still looking for the documents to confirm that," said Pete Scales, spokesman for the Building Department.
Mike Kelly, who five years ago bought a new 3,300-square-foot home in the 4000 block of North Oakley Avenue ostensibly designed by Larson in 1999, said the only problem with his three-story frame home is minor seepage he blames on the local clay-laden soil. He was unaware of the issue with the architect.
"It's been OK," he said. "If there had been any structural issues, I would have encountered them in the last five years."
On the 4300 block of North Mozart Street, a married couple named Tom and Lisa who did not want their last name used said there have been no problems with their condo unit in a light-brown brick six-flat attributed to Larson in 2001. They too said they were unaware of the issue.
"Nobody has ever said anything like, `Did you see the stove blow up?'" Lisa said. She did complain one closet is "kind of small."
"There's been no problems," Tom said. "In fact, in any condo meetings, no one has brought up a problem."
Tom did note that the building has a simple squared-off design, in keeping with Weiss' assessment that Pavlovich's drawings were fairly simple and typical of an older style of architecture.
Rod Radjenovich, Pavlovich's attorney, disputes the charges, saying "there was no harm to the public alleged. This was not like a building collapsed or anything was poorly designed."
The hefty fine state regulators handed down in March and revealed Friday was based on 282 instances in which Pavlovich used Larson's stamp, signed his name, or penned his initials, making the fine "excessive and unlawful," said Radjenovich.
Radjenovich also is arguing that until this year single-family homes--which made up the bulk of Pavlovich's work--did not require drawings done by an architect.
The state, however, rejects that argument. "If a person represents himself to be an architect, then the person must be an architect on single-family residential projects," the March order assessing the fine stated.
In the appeal, Radjenovich also states that the Department of Professional Regulation "sandbagged" his client by turning over new evidence just five days before an October 2003 hearing. During the hearing, Pavlovich asserted his 5th Amendment constitutional right not to incriminate himself.
Radjenovich also raised questions about the state's proof that Pavlovich forged documents.
In 2001 the state began looking into the licenses of older architects, after a Highland Park woman tried to apply for a license in her own name and officials discovered she had used her deceased father's architectural seal, said Hofer.
Architects receive their seals after passing a difficult multiday exam. "The test is brutal," Weiss said. Architects are licensed to ensure that homes are safe and meet certain aesthetic standards, he added.
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