The city terminated a fire captain after he was allegedly caught on surveillance shoveling snow, bending, and lifting while on leave for “several months” on claimed work-related injuries collecting workers compensation benefits.
Fire captain James Reyes was terminated following a February 17th, 2017 decision rendered by hearing officer Philip H. Mizzone, a former Passaic County Superior Court judge. The city brought administrative charges against Reyes after surveillance footage revealed he was allegedly active, shoveling snow, bending, lifting, and carrying while on leave from work due to work-related injuries, according to city officials.
It’s not clear what sorts of injuries Reyes claimed to receive workers compensation benefits. He could not be reached for comments on Thursday afternoon. Charles Onorato, president of the Paterson Fire Officers Association, the union that represents high ranking fire department employees, could not be reached for comments.
Reyes was charged with conduct unbecoming of a public employee and dishonesty as it relates to a workers compensation claim, said law director Domenick Stampone. He said a hearing was held before the former judge on February 10th, 2017.
The surveillance was arranged through the city’s risk manager’s office, said officials, which was setup by mayor Jose “Joey” Torres administration almost two years ago after council president William McKoy repeatedly called for the city to hire a risk manager to reduce lawsuits and workers compensation claims that put major strains on the municipal budget.
Paterson spent $6.5 million on workers compensation in fiscal year 2016. It has budgeted $4.9 million for workers compensation for the fiscal year 2017, according to the city’s introduced budget for the current fiscal year.
“The overall objective has been to reign in cost for medical bills, disability payments. It’s costing the city and taxpayers a lot of money,” said Goow on Thursday afternoon. He told council members last year he reviews every claim filed by employees to ensure they are legitimate. He also meets with injured workers to verify their claims.
The risk manager also has been conducting meetings where adjusters and consultants advise department directors on best practices to ensure workers safety which helps to reduce claims.
Goow, who is the brother of former 2nd Ward councilman Aslon Goow, has taken an aggressive approach to reduce the city’ exposure and payouts. In his first year he was able to close almost half of the outstanding workers compensation and insurance liability claims, he told council members a year ago.
The city has referred Reyes’ case to the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office for possible prosecution, according to officials.
Reyes has worked for the city’s fire department for almost 25 years. His salary was $148,922, according to city payroll records. It’s not clear how much money Reyes collected through workers compensation.