When Peter Kamar applied for a job as a paramedic with the Chicago Fire Department in April 2014, he admitted there was a mark against hiring him.
A felony conviction for possession of a stolen vehicle.
The fire department hired him anyway. Officials came to regret that.
A little more than two years later, Kamar was arrested again, for another felony. This time, Kamar, who was one of six people charged, was accused of possession of stolen property in connection with the Aug. 15, 2016, theft of $48,000 in high-end bicycles and bike parts taken from a freight train in Norfolk Southern rail yard west of the Dan Ryan Expressway near 47th Street on the South Side.
Arrested that November, the police also charged him with misdemeanor theft, saying he’d hidden a stolen bike worth more than $500.
That was after he was taken to the Chicago Police Department’s 20th District station at Lincoln and Balmoral and interviewed by the police and two Norfolk Southern officers. Records from the case don’t explain how he came to have the bike.
In a plea deal, prosecutors ended up dropping the felony charge, and Kamar pleaded guilty last March 16 to the misdemeanor. He was sentenced to a year of “conditional discharge” — in effect, told to stay out of trouble — and fined $454.
That was enough for the fire department. A month after his plea bargain, the department put him on paid leave. Then, on April 24, the department notified Kamar he was fired effective the following day.
It found that he’d violated five provisions of the department’s and City Hall’s codes of professional conduct. Among them: the rules about “conviction of any offense as set forth in the Illinois Revised Statutes or any federal statute” and making a false report.
But it wasn’t that easy to get rid of him, despite his criminal convictions.
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Kamar immediately filed a grievance with the union representing rank-and-file fire department employees. His claim? That the department violated its contract with the union.
On June 5, records show his grievance was settled. Details of his claim and of the negotiations weren’t made public.
But the result was that, on June 5, he was reinstated.
Kamar couldn’t be reached for comment. And the firefighters union didn’t return calls.
Applicants for any city job are subject to a background check. Having been convicted of a crime doesn’t automatically disqualify someone, according to fire department spokesman Larry Langford.
“It’s done on a case-by-case basis,” says Langford, declining to discuss details of Kamar’s case.
Kamar, 44, a Lane Tech grad and avid cyclist who’d been working since January 2009 for a private ambulance company, where he was a member of its competitive cycling team. Bike-racing databases show he competed in 39 races between 2013 and 2017.
He was upfront about his legal troubles when he applied for the fire department job. On his application in April 2014, he disclosed that he’d been convicted of a felony. He also offered an explanation.
He’d pleaded guilty in March 2002 to felony possession of a stolen vehicle and was given 30 months of probation, according to court records and his application.
He wrote that he “was influenced by attorney to accept plea of probation. Court wasted 2 years & was financially and mentally draining. Attorney was to over-turn conviction in appellate court but appeal was never followed up.”
After Kamar’s 2016 arrest, his lawyer wrote in court papers that he’d been unjustly arrested and “not correctly nor fully advised of his [Miranda] rights” before being questioned.
As part of the deal to get back his paramedic’s job, Kamar agreed to stay out of legal trouble. If he doesn’t, any sustained allegation “involving any theft or deceptive practice, either on duty or off duty, shall result in immediate termination.”