A $156,360-a-year deputy district chief has been demoted –– and faces a lengthy suspension along with a paramedic-in-charge for their participation in, yet another timekeeping scam in the Chicago Fire Department.
Sources identified the demoted deputy district chief as Edgar Ignacio Silvestrini, director fire department’s Medical Section.
The deputy district chief is accused of looking the other way while the paramedic-in-charge under his command left early with “regularity” to attend medical education classes on city time without clocking out appropriately.
Sources familiar with the investigation described the timekeeping scam as “isolated, but serious.”
It’s not the first time taxpayers have been cheated by a timekeeping scam in the Chicago Fire Department.
In June 2012, an arbitrator overturned the city’s firing of four firefighters and reduced lengthy suspensions for 44 others in a Fire Prevention Bureau where padding mileage expenses was so entrenched and condoned it was “almost a work rule.”
At the time, arbitrator Edwin Benn said there was “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 were 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.”
Inspector General Joe Ferguson was infuriated by the ruling.
“The idea that stealing, fraudulent falsification of official records and lying is acceptable because everyone else is doing it is patent nonsense. Any child knows better,” Ferguson said at the time.
The inspector general said then that the rampant mileage padding that prompted him to recommend that all 54 firefighters be fired did not arise out of some “technical violation of some obscure and misunderstood” city rule.
Those accused “admitted to routinely and systematically lying in order to steal money” from the Chicago taxpayers, the inspector general said.
“That conduct is also criminal. … It cannot be excused just because supervisors as equally ‘culturally challenged’ as their charges found it acceptable,” Ferguson wrote.
One year later, the same arbitrator thwarted the city from seeking repayment from the accused, which amounted to $100,000 in 2009 alone.
Benn agreed with Local 2 that reimbursement amounted to “double-jeopardy” because the city had not sought cost recovery as part of the disciplinary process.
In 2015, Ferguson disclosed that Chicago taxpayers were getting burned by firefighters moonlighting as extras on Hollywood producer Dick Wolf’s hit television show “Chicago Fire,” which showcases the bravery of Chicago firefighters and paramedics.
A deputy district chief was accused of working on the show on two occasions when he was supposed to be fighting fires for the city.
The other, a now-former firefighter, was supposed to be on medical lay-up and, therefore, ineligible to hold supplemental employment.
The deputy district chief jumped to avoid being pushed. He retired before the investigation could be completed, but not before writing a $1,604 check to reimburse the city for the time he was working as an extra when he was supposed to be on the clock for the city.
The firefighter moonlighting while on medical leave was terminated on Ferguson’s recommendation.
Ferguson also revealed that fire department employees working as extras on the show signed blank timesheets that were later completed by a studio production assistant and that Chicago Police Department employees “followed the same practice.”
That ignored a standard caveat that states, “I represent that the recorded times are accurate and worked by me.”