The city of Lawrence in Massachusetts has a lot going for it. A park dedicated to food trucks during the summer, a farmers market open two days a week, and an event on Sundays to promote biking, walking, skating and other physical activities. Oh, and city code inspectors allegedly have been selling bogus food safety certificates for $450 a pop. Lawrence, however, has started working both ends of the problem, moving against food service establishments which are operating with the phony credentials and suspending at least one city employee who allegedly sold them. Lawtencebodega_406x250The latest action came against La Vecina Meat Market at 202 Broadway, where an inspection team found enough code violations to shut the bodega down and charge owner Carmen Quiles with selling Viagra, a regulated pharmaceutical. Before the inspection, a Lawrence police officer was able to observe numerous fire and building code violations while investigating a tip that the retailer was also selling Viagra and synthetic marijuana. An unnamed store manager was eventually charged with the selling the synthetic marijuana. As for the food violations, the inspection team found an infestation of rodents, filthy showcases and coolers, and a walk-in freezer with an “offensive odor,” along with ham stored with chicken, stagnant water, rusty shelves, and no hand soap or towels in the bathroom. Its license, needed to prepare and sell food, was also expired. Assistant City Attorney Brian Corrigan accompanied the food inspection team and said the violations were apparent even without training in food handling or building safety. Corrigan said numerous violations were obvious as soon as they walked in. Fire Inspector James Driscoll pointed to fire code violations from outdated fire extinguishers to exists blocked by debris. La Vecina was shut down about a week after city inspectors closed down the Noelia bodega on East Haverhill Street. It had a phony “ServSafe” certificate — a document issued by the National Restaurant Association to show that an employee trained in safe food handing is on duty whenever the business is open. Code Inspector Jorge De Jesus, who issued that certificate, was put on paid leave while his department head opened an investigation into the 170 ServSafe certificates that De Jesus has issued in the city. Two employees at La Vecina said they did not take the required training courses to obtain their ServSafe credentials. The city is continuing the investigation, with about 50 bodegas, restaurants and other establishments with expired licenses being targeted. (To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)