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Last of 13 Cleveland Firefighters Pleads Guilty in Shift-Trading Scandal; Jail Sentence Suspended

Thursday, April 10, 2014 at 10:15 PM

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Photo: Liz West on Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/calliope/75703700

A 13th and final Cleveland firefighter caught up in a shift-trading and payroll abuse scandal has pleaded guilty. ideastream's Joanna Richards reports Calvin Robinson made tens of thousands of dollars while doing little work for the city, but has avoided any fine or jail time.

An audit by the city in 2011 found that firefighters had improperly traded shifts to collect a portion of their salary plus full benefits without actually working. Twelve pleaded guilty to the scheme in February.

Robinson pleaded guilty to complicity to receiving unlawful compensation and was given a six-month suspended jail sentence and ordered to pay a few hundred dollars in court costs.

Assistant Prosecutor Chris Schroeder said because Robinson was by far the worst offender, protracted negotiations with his attorneys made his prosecution take longer.

“The numbers regarding Calvin are absolutely shocking,” Schroeder said. “He was at work something like five days in 2009, six days in 2010, and 16-and-a-half days in 2011.”

Schroeder said firefighters abused poor record keeping and an ability to trade shifts allowed under their union contract. The way it worked was that a firefighter would pay another about $200 to work his 24-hour shift—a shift he was being paid about $550 to work himself. Many were then able to earn income from other jobs while still enjoying full benefits and the majority of their full-time pay.

Schroeder said in addition to wasting taxpayer money, the abuse also led to overworked firefighters too tired to do their jobs well.

“A firefighter who’s not at 100 percent can’t carry someone up and down a ladder, can’t break down a door with an ax,” Schroeder said. “And when you work more hours than is safely recommended, you’re endangering the people of the city of Cleveland.”

Mayor Frank Jackson’s office released a statement saying a pre-disciplinary hearing will be set for Robinson. He’s been on unpaid administrative leave since last May while the charges were pending.

All of the other firefighters implicated in the abuse have kept their jobs.

Frank Szabo heads the Cleveland firefighters union. He contended the problems stemmed from a lack of leadership and could have been better handled internally than with prosecutions.

“I don’t agree that there’s any scam here,” Szabo said. “I think that there was—look, there was a lack of utilization of best practices.”

Szabo said new rules and better record keeping implemented in 2012 after the abuses were uncovered have resolved the issue. He said going after individuals won’t improve a long-strained relationship between the city and the union.

A 14th firefighter pleaded guilty to similar charges in a separate case. 

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Courts/Crime - Fire/Law Enforcement, Government/Politics

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