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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—An indicted man was allowed to continue working as a firefighter for nearly three months while another case was mounted against him.
After being suspended following an arrest on fraud charges last year, city firefighter Dell Walker has also been arrested twice more by local cops.
Walker, who pleaded guilty to a drug possession charge in Bergen County and twice beat charges of making terroristic threats in Middlesex County, apparently still faces charges of shoplifting from the Toys R Us in East Brunswick.
Three days before Christmas 2015, Walker allegedly stole merchandise valued between $500 and $74,999 according to the third-degree charge filed against him.
A grand jury returned an indictment against Walker in August 2014, but neither that nor the shoplifting accusations leveled by East Brunswick Police apparently cost him his job.
It wasn’t until Walker’s November 2015 arrest for scamming the state’s disability system, allegedly working at the same time he was collecting disability, that he was finally suspended from the department without pay.
Walker, a city resident who was been with the NBFD since 1996, was indicted in June 2016 on a second-degree insurance fraud charge.
In the months that followed, Walker has had multiple run-ins with local police, who arrested him for drug possession twice since August.
On August 16, NBPD Officers including Victor Delgado arrested Walker, his son of the same name, and two others in an apartment, and charged them all with possession of heroin.
Walker’s most recent arrest came on October 19, when was arrested on cocaine possession charges by officer Keith Walcott. It marked his third arrest in less than a year.
As of November 23, Walker technically remains a part of the city government, having been suspended without pay for more than a year.
Walker has requested an administrative hearing where a hearing officer hired by the city would determine the fate of his public position, but it has yet to be scheduled according to City Hall, pending the outcome of the criminal investigations.
Walker is next due in court on December 16 at 9am, where he is scheduled to appear before Judge Joseph Paone on all of the charges pending against him.
In an exclusive interview with Mayor James Cahill earlier this year, the seven-term city leader said he was “fairly certain… that we will be looking for the removal of that employee.”
But in the June interview, Cahill lamented that the “frustrating process” for terminating an employee facing a criminal prosecution.
“[We] cannot fire them without going through the disciplinary [process],” said Cahill. “Civil service rules and regulations preclude a municipality from firing someone on the spot.”
“The city was a part of these investigations so we continue to review the conduct of our employees, fire department or not fire department, and throughout, and when appropriate take matters to the prosecutor’s office,” said Cahill.
He also said it was difficult to investigate such matters internally because of the Constitutional right against “self-incrimination.”
“You do not have the ability to talk to the employees as the government because they have the right against self-incrimination, so you’re somewhat stymied” Cahill said, referring to a different scandal currently under investigation by the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office.
Walker is the first, but not the only New Brunswick firefighter to be charged with defrauding the disability system.
Ex-firefighter Richard Patterson resigned earlier this year after being arrested for the same type of fraud Walker had been accused of: working as a firefighter while being paid disability benefits.
Patterson, who also kept his job despite several prior arrests, pleaded guilty to three different third-degree charges, including insurance fraud, criminal attempt, and defrauding the administration of a drug test.
The Fire Department began random drug testing in 2012, adopting a similar policy to the one used by the city’s police department.
If Walker is found guilty of the shoplifting or fraud charges, he could be forced to forfeit his public job because those are offenses that involve dishonesty.
In 2015, a Margate firefighter was forced to forfeit his job after he was convicted of stealing $7.98 in snacks from a Wawa convenience store, according to published reports.
Walker’s boss also has a criminal record, having pled guilty to shoplifting and two counts of simple assault in 1990.
A firefighter at the time, New Brunswick Fire Director Robert Rawls managed to avoid jail and keep his job, much like Patterson and Walker did after their own arrests in the 1990’s.
Rawls went onto become the department’s civilian director in 2006, after being appointed by Mayor Cahill.
Since then he got himself into trouble once again in May 2014, when he ran over three children in a crosswalk on Livingston Avenue.
But prosecutors decided not to move forward with criminal charges, relegating the matter to traffic court.
Rawls pleaded guilty to careless driving and paid a $206 fine, but lost his privelege to drive city vehicles. That decision likely had something to do with NBC New York exposing that Rawls had 19 driver’s license suspensions and 19 crashes on his record, including several that involved city vehicles.
Officials never said if Cahill knew about Rawls’ criminal record when he was promoted to Director, but seemed unphased when news of his previous criminal record became public.
“What Robert Rawls may or may not have done some 25 years ago is not of real importance today,” read a statement from the Mayor’s Office in response to New Brunswick Today’s questions.
“[Rawls] has been and continues to be a valued member of the City of New Brunswick’s administration team,” said the statement, which called him “a great leader to the men and women of the outstanding [NBFD].”
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, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.