Padding mileage expenses was so entrenched and condoned in Chicago’s Fire Prevention Bureau, it was “almost a work rule,” an arbitrator ruled Thursday, overturning the city’s firing of four firefighters and reducing lengthy suspensions for 44 others.
Independent arbitrator Edwin H. Benn said there is “no real dispute” that all of the accused Chicago firefighters “knowingly submitted inaccurate mileage reimbursement reports and obtained compensation for mileage — ranging in some cases into the thousands of dollars — that they did not actually incur.”
But, Benn noted that the alleged mileage padding was a “decades-long practice” that was taught, “condoned and encouraged by supervisors.” In fact, Benn noted that many of the inspectors were “assured by their supervisors that the accuracy of their mileage totals would not be challenged.”
As a result, the arbitrator wrote, “It is fair to conclude that the condonation and supervisory encouragement of employees to submit the maximum amount allowable for mileage reimbursement instead of submitting actual mileage expenses incurred was so deep, long-standing and pervasive that it went beyond condonation to rise to the level of becoming almost a work rule” in the Fire Prevention Bureau.
Although the charges are serious and might otherwise warrant firings and even longer suspensions, Benn wrote, “The amount of discipline imposed under these circumstances cannot be of a degree that should be imposed if condonation and encouragement at this level did not exist.”
In a 30-page ruling issued Thursday, Benn: reinstated four fired firefighters and ordered them to serve 40-day suspensions instead; reduced four 60-day suspensions to 40 days; cut 23 forty-five-day suspensions to 25 days; reduced 17 thirty-day suspensions to 20 days and allowed two supervisors who resigned to rescind their resignations. The captain was ordered to serve a 40-day suspension. The lieutenant was handed 25 unpaid days off.
This is appalling and despicable.
Even without the current conditions of the Obama “Thimamajig” economy, having this level of fraud be accepted and encouraged by “supervisors” is horrendous.
Since it has been proven that the inspectors lied about their actual mileage,that makes the overpayment “regular income” and I would hope that both state and federal taxing authorities will investigate.
The original story:
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 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.