CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Twelve Cleveland firefighters Monday admitted to making illegal payments to co-workers to cover shifts for which they were paid.
They pleaded guilty to charges of complicity to receiving unlawful compensation, a first-degree misdemeanor, and were sentenced to serve six months in jail, with time suspended. They must also pay court costs.
The firefighters were indicted last May for theft in office, which is a felony, and misdemeanor charges of soliciting or receiving improper compensation.
According to a release issued Monday by the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office, "the pleas appeared to mark the first acknowledgement 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."
The firefighters indicted all failed to work at least 2,000 hours, which represents roughly a year away from the job, according to the release.
According to the release, by paying others to work their shifts, the 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," Prosecutor Timothy McGinty said in the release. “We are confident that as a result of this prosecution, the Fire Department and its management will be held accountable in the future.”
The firefighters had been suspended without pay since their indictments.
The firefighters involved are: 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.
A thirteenth firefighter indicted in the case is Calivin Robinson, 52, of Cleveland. He is scheduled to go to trial Feb. 24.
A release issued by the firefighters' union today said the following:
"What today’s announcement by the Court shows is that these fire fighters have been cleared of the charges that were the basis for their unpaid leave, and that they were simply participating in shift exchanges permitted under U.S. Department of Labor regulations. We want to remind the citizens we serve that during the entire internal audit process, public safety has never been compromised. It is our hope and expectation these fire fighters will be returned to duty effective immediately."
The city said administrative hearings will now be scheduled for the firefighters.
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