NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—City officials confirmed that a firefighter suspended after being hit with criminal charges is the second to be suspended from the New Brunswick Fire Department (NBFD) this year.
Dell Walker was suspended without pay on November 23, according to Business Adminstrator Thomas Loughlin III.
The suspension came three days after the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office (MCPO) announced criminal charges against Walker, a 19-year veteran of the department, for collecting disability payments at the same time he was working.
In an announcement released just minutes after 5pm on a Friday, the MCPO accuses Walker of "stealing thousands of dollars by filing a phony disability claim while continuing to work for the city and collect a pay check."
Authorities said city officials first discovered the irregularity and an investigation led to charges of insurance fraud, theft and forgery.
The city's insurance company, Aflac, is now investigating whether or not other city employees are engaged in similar schemes, according to City Council Preident Kevin Egan.
Egan declined to comment on the specifics of Walker's case, stressing that the criminal charges are just allegations.
Walker is not the first person to be suspended from the NBFD this year.
Another firefighter named Richard Patterson was suspended without pay for three months beginning on August 8, according to documents obtained by New Brunswick Today.
"He returned to work on November 8, 2015," confirmed Jennifer Bradshaw, a spokesperson for the Mayor's office. "He did not ask for an administrative hearing."
City employees in New Brunswick are usually given the opportunity to challenge any discipline meted out against them by their bosses in an administrative hearing.
Walker, on the other hand, has requested a hearing.
However, in several recent cases, hearings have been put off for months or years while other investigations play out.
Employees also have the right to decide whether or not their hearing is open to the public.
In the case of the NBFD, a third firefighter was disciplined after an administrative hearing was held by the former presiding criminal judge in Middlesex County.
The City Council's December 2 agenda included a $3,510 payment to Bradley Ferencz, who is now a private attorney with the city-based firm Hoagland, Longo, Moran, Dunst, Doukas LLC.
That money was for presiding over the disciplinary hearing for firefighter Carmine Luizza. It was the first hearing of its kind since the summer of 2014, when a housing inspector was suspended for three months for using a racial slur.
"The disciplinary hearing already occurred," said City Attorney TK Shamy, referring to Luizza's matter.
"The disciplinary matter has been concluded. The penalty has already been meted out," Shamy said, saying he was not aware of the final punishment.
"I could say to you that there was some penalty involved, but I wasn't involved in the matter personally."
Bradshaw, the Mayor's spokesperson, said that "He forfeited a shift's pay, but he was not suspended."
Bradshaw also confirmed that the hearing was not open to the public.
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.