UPDATE (12/3): At a December 2 City Council meeting, Business Administrator Thomas Loughlin confirmed that Dell Walker has been suspended.
NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—A New Brunswick Fire Department (NBFD) firefighter has been charged with several criminal offenses for allegedly collecting disability payments while still working for the department.
Dell Walker, a 19-year NBFD veteran, is accused of "stealing thousands of dollars by filing a phony disability claim while continuing to work for the city and collect a pay check," according to a press release issued by the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office (MCPO).
But he has not been suspended from his firefighter job, according to City Hall.
The MCPO press release was issued at 5:05pm on Friday, November 20.
Government agencies and other public relations operations typically release unpleasant news around the close of business on a Friday, in the hopes it will not get as much attention.
"Dell Walker's employment is not suspended as of this date," said Jennifer Bradshaw, a spokesperson for Mayor James Cahill, on Monday, November 23.
Walker, who had previously sued Cahill and the city for discrimination, now faces three charges: a second-degree count of insurance fraud, third-degree theft and fourth-degree forgery.
Walker is 54 years old and earns an annual salary of $108,020. He spent a weekend behind bars on $30,000 bail, but has now been freed and is able to return to work.
He is a 1979 graduate of New Brunswick High School (NBHS), and one of a handful of men and women the school district identified in a list of profesional athletes who once played for the New Brunswick Zebras.
After playing professional football for the NFL's San Diego Chargers, Walker eventually joined the city fire department in July 1996.
A decade ago, Walker teamed with another firefighter and sued the city government, naming Cahill and Business Administrator Thomas Loughlin III as defendants.
Walker, who is black, filed the lawsuit with Eduardo Vega, a Hispanic firefighter, contending that the city had violated a 1980 federal consent decree, preventing the NBFD specifically from discriminating against blacks or Hispanics.
The decree affected fire departments in New Brunswick and 11 other New Jersey cities.
The cities were required under the decree to "refrain from engaging in any act or practice which has the purpose or effect of unlawfully discriminating against any black or hispanic employee… or applicant for employment with their respective fire departments because of such individual's race, color, or national origin."
Walker and Vega's lawsuit was ultimately dismissed, according to 2006 ruling by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. It's not clear what, if any, impact the litigation had on his recent career in the department where both he and Vega still work.
The Middlesex County Adult Correctional Center confirmed that Walker was released on $30,000 bail the morning of Monday, November 23 after being admitted to the facility on Friday, November 20.
Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew Carey announced the charges in conjunction with New Brunswick Police Department Director Anthony Caputo.
According to the MCPO release, the investigation was led by NBPD Detective Thierry Lemmerling and MCPO Detective Linda Infusino.
The statement said that unidentified "city officials" discovered the allegedly phony disability claim.
"The investigation began when city officials uncovered the theft and contacted police."
Lemmerling and Infusino determined that Walker filed the disability claim in December 2013 and collected payments totaling $42,000, according to the statement.
"It also was determined that he forged paperwork to continue receiving the disability checks while he continued working as a firefighter."
The announcement comes just a few weeks after Prosecutor Carey announced theft charges against a retired Edison police captain, a decision which has proved controversial.
The captain had been accused of using up the remainder of his sick days before retirement, while simultaneously working a security job at the Menlo Park Mall.
The MCPO described the investigation as "active and is continuing." They ask anyone with information to call Detective Infusino at (732) 745-3300.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate and a community organizer, and an independent candidate for Mayor of New Brunswick.