Target 8: 4 top brass at Hillsborough Fire Rescue suspended, time cards in question

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – The heat is on at Hillsborough County Fire Rescue. An investigation sent home four members of the department’s top brass indefinitely.

The county hired a former F.B.I. agent to look into whether or not three shift commanders and a deputy chief falsified their time cards.

Shift commanders Nelson Diez, Michael Guincho and Grant Preseau, along with their supervisor, Deputy Chief of Operations Chip Branam, were all placed on administrative leave Wednesday.

The news took Commission Chairman Stacy White, just back from out of town, by surprise.

“I’m disappointed that I haven’t been briefed on this issue and that I’m not in the loop,” said Commissioner White. “This rises to the level of a commissioner receiving a phone call, whether I’m out of town or not.”

“The four gentlemen were sent home by the fire chief in an abundance of caution while we continue and conduct a review of this matter,” explained Senior Assistant County Attorney Rudy Haidermota. “The representation on the time card is one where it says they were actually at work when they were not at work, that that’s what it appears to us to be.”

“In this case, because of the sensitivity of the matter, we wanted to retain an outside investigator for purposes of the review, and we also wanted to make sure that this was done very quickly and conduct a quick review for purposes of determining whether there’s misconduct or not,” said Mr. Haidermota.

According to Mr. Haidermota, the county wanted someone well qualified who could act quickly and efficiently, so the former F.B.I agent was hired. How far back in time the county is looking will depend on what the investigator finds.

At the moment, Mr. Haidermota explains the county is only looking at time card issues. We asked if this had anything to do with training, or grant money for training, and were told no. It’s up to what the investigator finds as to whether this branches out and involves other people.

According to Mr. Haidermota, the four involved were interviewed Thursday.

Target 8 was able to contact Deputy Chief Chip Branam, but he said he could not comment.

“If something’s gone awry with respect to the pay, the times, and we’re spending money that we shouldn’t be spending, that is by all means something I want to get to the bottom of,” stated Commissioner White.

If you know of something that should be investigated, call our Target 8 Helpline at 1-800 338-0808. Contact Steve Andrews at sandrews@wfla.com.

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