Wednesday, May 1st, 2013
Thursday, January 31st, 2013
Click here to watch TV coverage of NJ Watchdog’s investigation on NBC!
Timothy Carroll retired at age 33. He claimed he was “totally and permanently” disabled by the trauma of seeing dead bodies while working as a sheriff’s officer in Morris County, New Jersey.
“I suffer from crime scene flashbacks and hallucinations due to all the years I served as a crime scene detective,” stated Carroll in his disability application.
The real shock is Carroll then started a business that cleans up gory crime scenes, a New Jersey Watchdog investigation found. Yet the state continues to pay him a disability pension for life, a sum that could total $1 million or more.
Carroll’s company – Tragic Solutions LLC, of Linden – specializes in removing human residue from “bloody and/or messy” scenes, including “murder, suicide, accidental, natural and decomposing deaths,” according to its web site. He formed the business with Thomas Rohling, another former Morris sheriff’s officer who draws a state disability pension.
“I really don’t want to comment on this,” Carroll told NBC 4 New York, New Jersey Watchdog’s partner on the investigation.
“This says there is a problem with the whole pension system, the way the whole system is set up,” said John Sierchio, a trustee of the state Police and Firemen’s Retirement System. PFRS paid out $175 million to 5,067 disabled retirees in 2011 – figures expected to rise when 2012 data are released.
Disability applications received by the PFRS have doubled in the past year – and 95 percent of those claims are questionable, according to Sierchio.
The supposedly career-ending incidents have included a fireman who fell out of bed while sleeping, an officer who fell off his chair while sitting down, cops who slipped on wet floors or icy sidewalks, and a patrolman who suffered emotional trauma because his lieutenant yelled at him during roll call.
“It’s people who don’t want to work anymore,” said Sierchio, a Bloomfield police sergeant who has served on the PFRS board since 2002. “The last two officers shot in New Jersey are back to work, but the guy who trips over a curb is sitting on a beach getting two-thirds (of salary) tax-free.”
In New Jersey, it’s relatively easy to fake or exaggerate an injury to get a disability pension. The PFRS has no staff to investigate fraud. Nor do any of the state’s five other retirement funds for public employees.
“No one is watching,” said Sierchio.
The Tragic Solutions case illustrates how weak laws, red tape and lack of enforcement contribute to the woes of a state pension system that faces a shortfall of nearly $42 billion. New Jersey Watchdog obtained the records through Open Public Records Act requests.
In 1999, Carroll told pension officials he was unable to work because of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression caused by what he witnessed while responding to a car accident and three suicides.
“I started having crime scene flashbacks and hallucinations in 1997,” wrote Carroll. “In September of 1998, I suffered a hallucination while working at the courthouse. I was removed from work and placed in a mental hospital.”
Carroll began receiving disability checks after the PFRS board approved his retirement effective May 1999. Five years later – in April 2004 – Carroll and Rohling formed Tragic Solutions, according to state business records. For Carroll, the timing would prove crucial.
Tragic Solutions was featured later that year in an Associated Press story on businesses that clean up crimes scenes. It included an AP photo (above) of Carroll (left) and Rohling (right) posing in biohazard protection suits they wore on the job. The AP article mentioned they were retired cops, but nothing about their disability pensions.
After the PFRS board learned of Tragic Solutions, it could not halt Carroll’s disability benefits, currently $25,284 a year plus health coverage.
Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012
By Christopher Butler | Tennessee Watchdog
NASHVILLE — Officials in 33 government entities throughout Tennessee wasted or misused almost $11.7 million of taxpayer money according to audits that the State Comptroller released during March.
City of Whitwell
- More than $6,200 in overdraft fees was added to two of the city’s bank accounts.
- The city paid more than $2,200 for unnecessary Internet services. The city used AOL and MSN dial-up Internet service until switching to a DSL Internet vendor in 2008. However, the city continued to pay more than $40 per month to AOL and MSN for their services as well.
- § The former city recorder sold a total of 120 hours of vacation leave back to the city at a total cost of $1,305. However, there was no provision in the city’s personnel policy allowing for the sale of vacation leave.
Boys and Girls Club of the Tennessee Valley
- The Project Director submitted fictitious invoices for reimbursement from the organization that resulted in personal gain. The fraudulent expenses included in reimbursement requests amounted to $2,524 and $4,944.
- A cash shortage of at least $4,768 existed, in addition to questionable payroll disbursements totaling $4,121.
- During a review of court officers’ timesheets, it was noted that at least two employees were routinely working less than the required 30 hours per week, but were still receiving benefits awarded to full-time employees. The county’s estimated cost of benefits for these two employees, including paid leave, health insurance, and retirement totaled $9,232.
- Expenditures exceeded appropriations in major appropriation categories, including General Purpose School and School Federal Projects by $355,034.
- Salaries exceeded line-item appropriations in the General Purpose School, School Federal Projects, and Central Cafeteria funds by amounts ranging from $319 to $64,895.
- The General Purpose School Fund purchased cartons totaling $1,194 from Southern Carton Company. David Kennedy, the husband of school board member Barbara Kennedy, is the owner of Southern Carton Company. These purchases violate the conflict of interest statute. Continue reading.
Tuesday, March 27th, 2012
BOISE – A bill that would block a newspaper from being able to publish notices of trustee sales if that newspaper has a financial interest in the sale has passed the Senate despite lingering concerns that the bill could cast a large legal net around people and companies that have only a minor interest in the sale or even block larger newspapers from publishing the notices.
House Bill 624 says it is a misdemeanor for a newspaper to publish notices of trustee sales if that newspaper will directly or indirectly profit from such publication. The legislation is largely a response to the recent purchase of the Kuna-Melba News, where the owner is both the publisher of trustee notices and a trustee.
Supporters said the measure would keep the trustee from benefiting from only publishing notices in as small a venue as possible. A trustee, Republican Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, said, has a duty to put all other interests ahead of his own. Rice said that can’t happen if the trustee can decide to limit publication in a small newspaper.
But opponents said the bill would subvert the free market and prevents newspapers from capitalizing on the “vertical integration” of their business lines.
Tuesday, March 27th, 2012
LANSING — One can’t underestimate the power of the action Sen. Dave Hildenbrand, R-Lowell, and his colleagues made last week with the passage of a Senate bill that aims to stop the taking of money from unsuspecting home health care workers in Michigan.
More than $29 million has been skimmed off the top of home health care worker paychecks since the Service Employees International Union pushed a unionization drive on them through a series of intricate and suspect dealings that took place under the governorship of Jennifer Granholm.
Think about that. With $29 million you could buy Michael Jordan’s suburban Chicago mansion. You could fly first-class to Rome at least 4,758 times.
Or you could line the pockets of union bosses for almost four years.
The Michigan House of Representatives passed a bill in June that would have ended the scam. It made its way to the state Senate where it was passed out of the Reforms, Restructuring and Reinventing Committee but languished because Senate leadership didn’t put it up for a vote.
Protestors Oppose Health Connector Insurance Nominees Citing Conflict of Interest, Ethics Exemptions
Saturday, March 24th, 2012
By Jim Dooley | Hawaii Reporter
HONOLULU – As protestors demonstrated at the federal building against the Affordable Care Act, state legislators wrestled with Hawaii’s plans to implement the law, which mandates universal health insurance coverage for all Americans.
Today is the second anniversary of passage of the law, formally known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and informally known to its critics as “Obamacare.”
In the state Senate, community groups including the AARP continued to voice opposition to a perceived lack of consumer representation and to conflicts of interest on the board of a non-profit company that is implementing the Affordable Care Act here.
Saturday, March 24th, 2012
By Andrew Thomason | Illinois Statehouse News
Even those cuts would simply hold Medicaid spending flat, and wouldn’t begin to address the $2 billion the state owes in overdue Medicaid bills.
Friday, March 23rd, 2012
By Carten Cordell | Virginia Statehouse News
ALEXANDRIA — Indiana resident Steve Wixson has discovered what more Virginians will soon find out: Allergies are more than uncomfortable. They might lead to a stretch in jail.
Wixson is an allergy sufferer and a loyal user of Claritin-D throughout spring and summer. Like a lot of pharmacies, the one in suburban Indianapolis where Wixson bought his Claritin-D tracks purchases of the remedy because it contains ephedrine.
Ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, a derivative, are legal drugs, but they’re also essential to the production of illegal methamphetamine.
Wixson figured his store would warn him before he inadvertently acquired more Claritin-D than legally allowed under state and federal laws.
He figured wrong.
Wixson was arrested in October, three months after his last purchase, for going two boxes over the legal limit.
After Hawaii Reporter Story, U.S. Transportation Secretary Addressing Internal Emails Critical of Honolulu Rail Project
Friday, March 16th, 2012
By Malia Zimmerman | Hawaii Reporter
HONOLULU — Two days ago, former Gov. Benjamin Cayetano released a series of email exchanges between Federal Transit Administration officials critical of the city’s planned $5.3 billion steel on steel rail project, claiming city officials had “lousy practices of public manipulation” and “produced 3 failed projects and are well on their way to a fourth.”
Cayetano, a candidate for Honolulu mayor, is opposed to the project, and used the emails written between 2006 and 2009 obtained recently through federal litigation to demonstrate the FTA’s true feelings about the city’s management of the project and the rail plan itself.
Today, the FTA emails – or at least the dismissal of them – became part of the congressional record.
U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who appeared at a hearing of the Senate Committee on Appropriations’ Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, told Hawaii’s Senior Senator Daniel Inouye the emails were exchanged under a prior administration and now the federal government is fully committed to the project.
“Since I have taken this position, I have had the privilege of being with you in your state. We’ve talked about this project. You were kind enough to convene a meeting about this and other projects in Hawaii. I want you to know that we are committed to this project. This is an important project. This will deliver people all over the island. It’s an important project and at this point, we will continue to work through whatever issues need to be worked through. We’re committed to this. We’re committed to the money; we’re committed to the project. And, until we hear differently from others who are intimately involved in this, I see no reason why we won’t go forward,” LaHood said. Continue reading.
Thursday, March 15th, 2012
By Matt Willoughby | Civitas Institute
RALEIGH – Some parents and lawmakers say the discussion over the Hoke County school lunch issue continues to skirt two key overarching issues. One is what some parents see as an intrusion into their rights when government officials inspect homemade lunches and decide they don’t meet nutrition standards. Another area of concern expressed by some lawmakers is that of unelected bureaucrats making up rules to implement state laws.
People who are paid to babysit children in their private residences could face those same concerns. The Child Care Commission makes the rules covering child care in North Carolina and has proposed the same nutrition rules governing pre-K programs should apply to private Family Child Care Homes. Those are private residences that care for at least two children who are not related to the homeowners.
According to records at the Division of Childhood Development and Early Education (DCDEE), there are 3,338 licensed Family Care Homes in North Carolina serving 19,631 children.
Currently the nutrition rules for those homes are not as stringent as those for pre-K programs, such as the one at West Hoke Elementary School. It became the subject of national attention when children were told their homemade lunches didn’t meet nutrition standards, so the children had to take school food in addition to their bag lunches.
That could become an issue for the Family Child Care Homes under the rules proposed by the Child Care Commission. While those homes don’t have to supplement homemade lunches now, they would have to do so under the new regulations. The proposed rules also prohibit homeowners from serving such snacks as cookies, chips or donuts, except for special occasions.
Children older than 24 months would have to be provided with a snack or meal every four hours. But the meal could not include flavored milk, sugary drinks (including Kool-Aid) sweet tea and fruit drinks. The caregiver also could not give an infant juice in a bottle without permission from a heath care professional.
The homeowner also would have to provide an area for mothers who are breastfeeding their infants. Under the new rules the accommodation would have to be in an area other than a bathroom, have an electrical outlet and be shielded from view by staff and the public.
The Child Care Commission will continue to review the rules at a meeting on May 8. Whatever that panel approves moves on to the Rules Review Commission for consideration. After the Rules Review Commission acts, then citizens have 24 hours to object to any rule. If at least ten people sign a petition of objection, the rule goes to the General Assembly for a hearing. Continue reading.