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Tucson paramedic indicted in work-shift fraud probe

A Tucson Fire Department paramedic has been indicted on four felony counts alleging work-shift fraud, court records show.

Herbert Oxnam was indicted on four counts of fraudulent schemes and artifices after a Tucson Police Department investigation showed he double-billed the city to spike his pension and earn a little extra money through overtime.

Oxnam’s charges stem from paying fellow firefighters up to $200 to call in sick when he was up for the next overtime opportunity. The result: the city paid twice for the same shift. That’s because the city paid one employee sick leave and overtime to Oxnam to cover the “sick” employee’s shift, according to the indictment.

A couple of thoughts here. First, manipulating overtime lists in public safety isn’t unusual. The police department in my town used to be notorious for officers calling out almost on schedule and other officers taking the overtime. Which didn’t affect pensions, since only “base pay” is used to calculate retirement benefits. It did of course, cost the taxpayers money because the chief and then town manager didn’t seem to care if this happened. That might be sneaky, but it’s not illegal. The crime here would seem to me to be bribery since he was paying other public employees to engage in particular behaviors that benefited him. Of course, that’s a non lawyers guess.

My other thought is that the police didn’t magically divine that Oxnam was allegedly breaking the law. Someone told the fire chief, who  called the police to give them a heads up about what was going on. Human nature being what it is, that was likely someone that wasn’t asked to participate. The problem here is that this will likely spread beyond Oxnam to the other employees involved.

Oxnam’s attorney Mike Storie said his client retired from the department Dec. 16.

“He’s taken full responsibility for his actions and regrets that he has placed any other firefighters in jeopardy,” Storie said.

Yeah, I think that the police and Attorney General will want to be having a chat with some of the other firefighters. Oh, and depending on what Arizona law is, Oxnam might lose his pension or at least part of it. Not to mention going to prison.

The investigation revealed widespread “irregularities” on how the Fire Department conducted and documented shift trades and other types of leave.

Although widespread, the Attorney General’s Office said TFD management’s culture of lax oversight and murky personnel rules prevented others from facing criminal charges.

“TFD’s institutional tolerance of shift trade/leave manipulations compounded by tacit managerial approval and/or poor oversight of documentation made criminal prosecution untenable,” court documents show.

Shift trades, or swaps, are tricky. At my place we used to have “cash swaps”. Which meant that instead of just swapping assignments for a shift one guy would pay another guy to work his shift for him. Which is considered income by the IRS and subject to taxes. We had a few guys that ended up getting audited and then management implemented a new policy and strict rules. I expect something similar will happen here. The $200.00 fee that Oxnam paid is income for the other firefighters and the IRS is going to want it’s cut. Hello audits.

“The undersigned prosecutor felt it would be an unjust exercise of prosecutorial discretion to single out one employee for conduct that was widely tolerated in the department.”

Since Oxnam’s fraud differed from TFD’s everyday, dubious practices, the Attorney General’s Office moved ahead with charges against him, court records show.

There’s always one guy that just has to take this sort of thing one step (or ten) too far. Oxnam was the one in Tucson.

Remember the second rule of EMS. “You don’t want a rule named after you, because the chief never makes a new rule when someone does something smart.”

From henceforth, whether they know it or not, Tucson FD will have the “Oxnam rule”.

Which will state that you can’t bribe other firefighters to call in sick so as to increase your overtime and thus your pension.

File this one under the Sumdoap Chronicles


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