Former Louisiana State Fire Marshal Investigator Arrested

April 26, 2013

A retired state Fire Marshal’s Office investigator surrendered to authorities on accusations he falsified paperwork of an attempted inspection of a dilapidated apartment complex in Grand Isle that later caught fire with two residents trapped inside.

The Advocate reports Nunzio Marchiafava, 67, of Gretna, a former district chief based in New Orleans, was booked in Baton Rouge Wednesday on one felony count of filing false public records.

Marchiafava admitted to investigators last week that he logged fictitious mileage for a trip he claimed to have made in May to the former site of the Rusty Pelican Economy Lodge, according to an arrest warrant. The complex, which had been known as the Willow Creek Apartments, caught fire Sept. 26, killing residents Belle Brandl, 60, and Timothy Foret, 46.

Six months before the fatal fire, the state Fire Marshal’s Office received a complaint from a Grand Isle rental property owner warning of the deteriorating conditions of the apartment complex, which had been heavily damaged during Hurricane Katrina. Marchiafava had been tasked with looking into the complaint, and the day after the blaze, filed a “special report” claiming he had driven to Grand Isle on May 25 but was unable to find anyone at the complex.

But cellphone records show Marchiafava made several calls from the New Orleans area during the time he claimed to be traveling to Grand Isle for the inspection, according to court filings.

Brant Thompson, deputy chief at the state Fire Marshal’s Office, said his agency welcomed the investigation and is cooperating fully.

The Office of State Inspector General opened an investigation in October after receiving a complaint from the Metropolitan Crime Commission, the New Orleans-based watchdog organization. The complaint alleged the state Fire Marshal’s Office failed to inspect the apartment complex in March 2012 despite receiving a warning that the building presented an “extreme fire hazard.”

It was unclear whether Marchiafava has an attorney.

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