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Cleveland: Why were no supervisors charged in CFD payroll probe?

6:00 PM, May 16, 2013   |    comments
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CLEVELAND -- Thirteen Cleveland firefighters could be the first in the country to face criminal charges for a common practice called "caddying"-- paying colleagues to work their shifts.

A Cuyahoga County Grand Jury indicted them for counts of theft in office and soliciting and receiving improper compensation.

All had others work around 2,000 hours for them in exchange for agreed upon payment. That's a full year of shifts.

Thirteen other firefighters got immunity for cooperating with a special investigator paid by the city.

Well-known defense lawyer Henry Hilow represents eight of the firefighters. Some are longtime friends.

Hilow says the firefighters should not face charges for a longtime common practice.

Two of the firefighters are now lieutenants. But all of those indicted face charges for behavior as firefighters.

Hilow said, "Whoever was responsible for overseeing this, if you're going to say these people should be charged , they (Supervisors ) should not  be given a pass."

His clients will plead not guilty.

Prosecutor Tim McGinty would not comment on what's still considered an open investigation, leaving open the possibility supervisors could still be charged.

Some lawyers speculated that there are no specific laws covering lax oversight.

Even if there are not, the city is prepared to take disciplinary action if appropriate.

Assistant Public Safety Director Ed Eckart said, "They will be held accountable if we can identify there was culpability."

The city has taken steps to fix the problem and change the culture.

Those include getting a deal with the union to limit trades to six days with a deadline for payback, computerizing records once scribbled on paper, hiring a civilian to oversee payroll and an auditor to do spot checks.

New high tech time clocks to match the swipe card and fingerprints of workers were supposed to be installed and working in February.

Because of problems getting new and old software to communicate, the goal is to have them working the first pay period in July.

Eckart's in charge of dealing with the shift trade issue.

"We have the checks and balances in place and the administrative changes going forward to assure citizens their tax dollars are going for the purposes they were intended for," he said.

New Fire Chief Daryl McGinniss is in charge of changing a culture fostered by an arrangement where supervisors are also union members.

He urged firefighters to keep their heads up and keep doing an excellent job of protecting Cleveland residents and visitors.

"This is a sad day for the Cleveland Fire Department ... but as the chief I will continue to ensure we stay on track," he said.

The firefighters charged are suspended. That means the city will have to pay overtime to cover staffing issues.

The total cost of new positions and technology to deal with the shift trade issue is about $1.3 million.


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