ST. PAUL, Minn. – The chief of the St. Paul Fire Department has suspended a captain for five days for allegedly engaging in fraudulent use of sick time, with the effect of costing the city thousands of dollars.
The Pioneer Press reports that Mike Hamburger’s use of sick time cost St. Paul at least $14,000. That figure was calculated without taking into consideration the cost of paying other firefighters to fill Hamburger’s missed time. Those costs are also often billed at overtime rates.
“These are disturbing allegations that, if true, may have cost St. Paul taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars in stolen wages,” Mayor Chris Coleman said in a statement, reports the Star Tribune.
Hamburger took sick leave starting on May 6, and St. Paul’s human resources department took until June 13 to notify him that they were aware he was away from work more than three consecutive shifts, and that he needed medical documentation to justify this, reports the Pioneer Press. On July 12 the city received an aftercare summary from a doctor’s appointment from that day, which the city says contained nothing to justify his use of sick time prior to July 12.
Hamburger’s last day was already July 21, as he had planned on retiring this year. He has worked with the department since 1994, and has thus far declined to comment on the ongoing investigation, at the advice of his attorney.
However Mike Smith, the president of the union representing the St. Paul Fire Department’s rank-and-file firefighters, has not held back. The leader of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 21 told the Pioneer Press he believes this investigation is a “witch hunt.”
“I believe this is a breakdown in policy and improper follow-through on an administrative level, and now they’re pointing fingers and trying to blame anyone,” Smith told the Pioneer Press.
Two more former firefighters are also under investigation regarding allegations they defrauded the St. Paul Fire Department of sick time pay.