A dozen Cleveland Firefighters plead guilty in shift change scandal

A dozen Cleveland Firefighters plead guilty in shift change scandal

Twelve Cleveland Firefighters entered guilty pleas Monday afternoon to charges arising from illegal payments they made to co-workers to cover shifts for which the defendants were compensated by the city, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty announced.

Pleading guilty to charges of Complicity to receiving unlawful compensation, a first-degree misdemeanor, were: Peter Corso, 48, of Concord; Kevin Dever, 43, of Cleveland; Bernard Fronhapple, 52, of Rocky River; Robert Graham, 52, of Lakewood; Barry Kifus, 41, of Painesville; Kevin P. Kelly, 52, of Olmsted Falls; Thomas Jurcisin, 52, of Cleveland; Daniel Losteiner, 45, of Cleveland; Gary McNamara, 49, of Bay Village; Michael Milano, 54, of Broadview Heights; James Oleksiak, 44, of Cleveland; and Nicholas Rucella, 49, of Cleveland.

Immediately after they entered their pleas, Common Pleas Court Judge Carolyn Friedland sentenced each defendant to serve six months in jail - with time suspended - and to pay court costs which she estimated would exceed the $1,000 maximum fine authorized by statute.

Thirteen Cleveland firefighters were indicted last May for theft in office, a felony, and soliciting or receiving improper compensation, a misdemeanor. The final defendant, Calvin Robinson, 52, of Cleveland, is scheduled to go on trial February 24 before Judge Friedland.

The guilty pleas appear to mark the first acknowledgment by firefighters anywhere in the country that they illegally manipulated a city's rules on shift-trading, stayed away from the job for significant amounts of time and yet accepted pay and benefits as if they had been working.

By paying others to work their shifts, the Cleveland firefighters were complicit in violating state law that says public employees can be compensated only by a government agency.

"This prosecution aimed to end abuse and corruption within the Fire Department that was ripping off the city, endangering the public and risking the safety of other firefighters," said Prosecutor McGinty. "We are confident that as a result of this prosecution, the Fire Department and its management will be held accountable in the future."

Cleveland firefighters are allowed to trade shifts, but all shifts must be paid back within a year. A city audit in 2011 revealed that many firefighters did not reciprocate by working shifts for colleagues - they instead paid them, usually in cash. But the firefighters who were absent continued to be paid for those shifts.

They also received benefits - including health, pension and vacation pay -from the city for those shifts.

The firefighters indicted all failed to work at least 2,000 hours, roughly a full year away from the job.

Defendant Robinson failed to work more than 8,000 hours. This meant that in addition to missing work, they also missed vital training drills.

The firefighters who substituted for them were working additional hours in a highly stressful, physically demanding job, putting their own safety at risk.

"The Cleveland Police Department conducted a thorough and complete investigation of these abuses," said Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Jennifer O'Malley, who prosecuted this case for the State of Ohio. "They did so despite a culture within the Fire Department that had allowed this to occur."

The 13 firefighters have been suspended without pay since their indictment in accord with city policy.

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