HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – The four members of the Hillsborough County Fire Rescue’s top brass who were shown the door by the county last month will be leaving their jobs with full retirement packages and sweet separation deals, Target 8 has learned.
Three shift commanders at the department were told to retire or be fired in June after a county investigation revealed the administrators were paid for time they did not work. Their boss was accused of ignoring the problem.
While their crews were out fighting fires and saving lives, Nelson Diez, Michael Guincho and Grant Preseau were—well, we the county doesn’t know where they were, but the men were still paid, and on top of that, the county paid other employees to work as their replacements.
“They were manipulating time cards to reflect that they were actually on duty, when in fact they were not,” said Hillsborough Deputy County Administrator Gregory Horwedel.
Diez, Guincho and Presau will retire at the end of the week, along with Deputy Chief of Operations Chip Branam. They will all receive full retirement benefits.
“I think the important thing to remember is that they are repatriating the dollars to the to the county,” explained Horwedel.
But why are they retiring with full benefits?
“That would have still happened had they been fired they would’ve been eligible to apply for the benefits and get them,” Mr. Horwedel continued.
According to the law, unless a government worker is convicted of a felony committed in the course of their official duty, they keep their retirement.
The county estimates Diez, Guincho and Preseau owe taxpayers $43,000 in total.
The money will be deducted from their accrued vacation and sick leave packages, which add up to a pretty penny.
After paying back what they owe, Mr. Diez will receive $10,814, Mr. Preseau will take home $21,940 and Mr. Guincho will receive $48,806 in sick leave and vacation. Mr. Branam will receive $57,489.
The shift commanders contend that Fire Rescue Chief Dennis Jones knew they took time off for hours worked beyond their scheduled 48 per week.
Chief Jones told investigators he didn’t know they took off entire shifts.
Chief Jones took over Fire Rescue two years ago. How did he not know?
“I think anyone coming into a new job has a presumption that things are being done correctly,” said Mr. Horwedel. “There’s no policy that allows flex time.”
Mr. Horwedel added that the county did not turn the investigation over to law enforcement.
“The investigator opined that he did not see the intent for theft. That’s one of the foundational elements for any kind of criminal prosecution,” stated Mr. Horwedel. “I characterize this as them violating policy, they did not use the system the way it was designed.”
According to Mr. Horwedel, retirement was the most expedient way to get past this problem within the department. Had these men not retired, they would have been fired.
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