Audit Finds Chicago Firefighters Falsified Mileage Claims

CHICAGO (STMW) – More than 80 firefighters assigned to the Chicago Fire Department’s scandal-scarred Fire Prevention Bureau are under internal investigation for allegedly falsifying mileage used to reimburse them for use of their personal vehicles to conduct inspections, the Sun-Times is reporting.

The alarming allegations affecting nearly 80 percent of the bureau’s 108 employees follow an exhaustive audit by Inspector General Joe Ferguson that identified alleged abuses that might have cost Chicago taxpayers “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in 2009 alone.

Sources said more than a dozen firefighters have been interviewed and most have acknowledged falsifying mileage. They were confronted with evidence from GPS-equipped cell phones that have tracked their movements since a 2007 scandal.

In 2009, the firefighters were reimbursed at the IRS rate of 55 cents a mile with an unspecified monthly cap. The worst offenders allegedly worked backward from the cap and falsified their mileage to justify claiming the maximum, sources said.

Firefighters assigned to the Fire Prevention Bureau do not have Fire Department vehicles.

They go into the office each day, get a list of locations to inspect and use their personal vehicles to criss-cross the city. They keep track of their mileage and get reimbursed based on how far they’ve traveled. They are not reimbursed for their daily commute.

Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford refused to comment on the preliminary findings.

He would only say, ”We’re aware that the inspector general’s office is conducting an audit of the use of personal vehicles in the Fire Prevention Bureau, but we are not aware of any specific allegations.”

Langford added, ”If the audit shows there’s wrongdoing, it will be addressed. Any report generated by the inspector general will be looked at carefully to see if any procedures or conduct need to be addressed.”

Tom Ryan, president of the Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2, could not be reached for comment on the allegations. Jonathan Davey, a spokesman for the inspector general’s office, refused to comment on the investigation.

The Fire Prevention Bureau has been a steady source of controversy over the years.

In October 2007, Fire Commissioner Ray Orozco launched an internal investigation of the bureau, put all 100 inspectors on a shorter leash and ordered them to carry GPS-equipped cell phones to track their movements.

Orozco ordered the investigation after a TV station allegedly caught an inspector conducting personal business on city time.

The new phones were equipped with software that allows ”real-time tracking” of an inspector’s movements. The phones ”record the start and end time of inspections and act as a portable clock to track” inspection activity.

Nearly one year later, eight inspectors from the Fire Prevention Bureau were fired and two others retired after being accused of accepting or facilitating cash payments in exchange for making weekend pump inspections at high-rises.

The decision to sweep out half of the 20-member pump section was made after an internal investigation determined that the practice of accepting ”several hundred dollars” for every weekend inspection was improper, but has been going on for years.

A few months later, the bureau was placed in the hands of Nick Russell, former president of the African-American Firefighters Union.

Before the promotion to the post he still holds, Russell had spent years protesting hiring and promotion practices in the Fire Department and received an anonymous death threat during the 2004 uproar over racist transmissions over fire radio.

Earlier this year, Ferguson concluded that Chicago taxpayers were ”hemorrhaging” money, thanks to a surge in overtime pay to Fire Department brass that coincided with — and wiped out savings generated by — mandatory furloughs.

© Sun-Times Media Wire Chicago Sun-Times 2010. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

  • thwipp89

    good! these guys make a pretty damn good salary and then rape the system. it’s pure greed and corruption. we need MANY more audits in this city and government, in general! buncha crooks are putting us even deeper in the hole.

  • Michael Paoli

    Big Surprise!!!!!!!!!!! More private sector abuse

  • quinn

    Firefighter Convicted In Gas Meter Scam
    By Steven Tanner on December 23, 2009 8:57 AM | No TrackBacks
    A Chicago firefighter found a crafty way to reduce his home gas bills without reducing his carbon footprint. He took the gas meter from a burned out house (he presumably helped put out the fire) and used a false social security number to secure free gas service at his home (Fox Chicago).

    Gotta give the guy points for creativity, but the gravy train couldn’t last forever. He was convicted of I.D. theft, two counts of forgery, fraud, official misconduct and theft. He’ll be sentenced on Jan. 25 and faces two to five years of probation.
    The firefighter, 38-year-old Milton Stewart, had a good run, getting free gas from Nov. 24, 2007 until his arrest last January. Although his legal troubles and shaky job security (he’s on administrative leave) likely will dwarf his savings in home heating costs.

    Chicago’s less-savory firefighters have been in the news a lot in the past year, mostly for much worse crimes that make Stewart look like an altar boy.

    Take Scott Holland, for example, who has been arrested three times since joining the force. Most recently, Holland punched a police officer in the face (CBS Chicago) back in Septmember after knocking another one of the bicycle cops off his bike. It took place in Soldier Field after a Bears game, simply because they asked him to move out of their way.

    Another firefighter, Osmar Orozco, recently was charged with felony theft and forgery (Chicago Crime Examiner) and yet another firefighter was charged last February for selling cocaine to a Chicago Department of Water Management worker (Chicagoist).

    And last but not least, but definitely the worst, firefighter Jose Moreno was charged last January for sexually assaulting three young children (Tribune) who lived in his building.

    No one’s saying Chicago’s firefighters are all hucksters, thugs and perverts, but–as with the city’s troubling spate of police misconduct–perhaps a better vetting process is in order.

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