07-09-2007, 11:46 PM
Join Date: May 2007
The thin blue line takes another bite out of the bottom line.
Sacramento DA Says CHP Abused Workers' Comp System
(AP) SACRAMENTO The California Highway Patrol abused the state workers’ compensation system to let top managers retire with medical and disability benefits that substantially inflated their pay, the Sacramento County District Attorney’s office said Tuesday.
Investigators found that the CHP and the State Compensation Insurance Fund violated state policies when they rewarded some top officers who took sick leave or retired under pressure with workers’ compensation benefits.
“It’s very apparent that there was a great deal of abuse going on,” said former state Sen. Jackie Speier, D-Daly City, who chaired a committee that oversaw the CHP.
She praised CHP Commissioner Michael L. Brown, who was appointed two years ago, for breaking up “a good ol’ boys network” within the agency.
After Brown took over, the CHP investigated 603 potential workers’ compensation fraud cases and sought criminal charges in two cases involving lower-level officers.
Sixteen policy changes have been in place since June 2006, Brown said. New workers’ compensation claims fell 24 percent last year, cutting compensation costs by 7 percent.
“We are working hard to restore the public’s confidence in the CHP,” said Brown, who became commissioner when D.O. “Spike” Helmick retired in September 2004.
The CHP also referred 16 cases involving high-ranking officers to the district attorney’s office to avoid a conflict of interest.
Prosecutors said they focused on four of the 16: Helmick; former deputy commissioner Alex Jones; former deputy chief Edward Gomez; and former assistant chief John Edelman, who together received hundreds of thousands of dollars in benefits.
The district attorney pursued investigations into insurance fraud and misappropriation of public funds, but ultimately decided charges could not be substantiated.
Investigators said they tried to determine whether Helmick knew about the abuse and allowed it to continue, but they could not trace any such decisions to him. In each case, doctors found some work-related disability, the district attorney’s 26-page report said.
“Although abuses of the system did take place, there is insufficient evidence to prove a criminal case,” District Attorney Jan Scully said in a statement.
Jones and an attorney representing Helmick did not immediately return telephone messages. Efforts to reach Gomez and Edelman were unsuccessful.
The investigation began in May 2005 after the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office found that about 80 percent of CHP chiefs retired with medical pensions since 2000, compared with about 60 percent of other officers. About 150 chiefs supervise 7,000 CHP officers throughout the state, under the direction of the commissioner and his top aides.
The district attorney’s investigation focused on disability claims, which would have affected the chiefs’ retirement benefits. But since the investigation began, one officer withdrew a request for higher retirement benefits and another has yet to submit one.
By law, CHP officers injured on the job can get a year’s salary tax-free. CHP officers who retire with a disability get larger benefits if they are at least age 50.
The CHP bent the rules so Jones could claim the benefits of retiring at age 50, even though he was 46 when he stepped down in May 2002, investigators found. He received $350,000 worth of injury settlements and sick leave.
Edelman took sick leave as he was being questioned in May 2002 about an unreported shooting incident and his treatment of a subordinate. A doctor initially found his lower back pain was not job-related, but he was still given disability benefits.
He received $150,000 in settlements and sick leave.
Gomez similarly took sick leave in February 2000 after he was questioned for making inappropriate comments to a subordinate. Because the CHP did not disclose its internal probe, he kept $87,000 in benefits
I know this is about six months old, but it was brought to my attention today.