Posts Tagged Highwood City Manager Scott Hartman

Former Highwood Deputy Fire Chief on trial

There has been an ongoing investigation and suspension of the former Highwood Fire Department deputy chief. An article from 2013 is HERE.

The issue is back in the news now as a trial has begun. There are a few recent articles on the subject.

Excerpts from

Lake County prosecutor Scott Turk on Monday described Highwood’s former deputy fire chief as a “disgruntled employee” who “wanted to work 9 to 5 like everyone else.”

Delivering his opening statement in the long-delayed trial of Ronald Pieri, Turk said disgruntlement and greed led the former fire official to falsify time records and claim extra pay for work he could have performed during his regular 24-hour shift.

Turk said the state’s evidence would prove that Pieri is guilty of criminal felony charges of official misconduct, theft and false entry, and that his actions had cost Highwood taxpayers about $58,676 in pay, lost work time and benefits.

Meanwhile, Pieri’s defense lawyers pointed out that experts have produced three different sets of calculations and “corrected calculations” as to how Pieri should have been paid — evidence the state’s data is unreliable.

“It is this flawed, faulty and unreliable evidence on which the state’s entire case is based,” said defense lawyer Julie Trewarthen, in a brief opening statement.

After four years of delays and continuances, Pieri’s trial began Monday before Lake County Circuit Court Judge Victoria Rossetti after Pieri waived his right to a jury trial. He was charged in 2011 with falsifying time records and claiming compensation to which he was not entitled between 2006 and 2010.

At the time of his arrest, Pieri was the highest ranking member of the Highwood Fire Department and the husband of a then-sitting alderwoman, as well as the son of a former alderman.

The only witness to take the stand Monday was former Highwood Fire Chief Thomas Lovejoy, who headed the small department from late 2003 until early 2010. Lovejoy said Pieri, who had served as Highwood’s fire chief prior to his own arrival, was a shift commander in charge of one of the department’s three 24-hour shifts.

Pieri was named deputy fire chief in January 2007. Six months later, he was given a 20 percent pay raise and made an exempt employee, meaning he no longer was eligible for overtime pay.

Though city of Highwood policy required the fire chief’s approval on time sheets, Turk produced examples of time forms submitted by Pieri without the chief’s approval.

“It was not unusual for Ron Pieri to enter and submit time sheets to the city himself,” Lovejoy said.

“So there were some forms you did not see at all?” Turk asked.

“Very often,” Lovejoy replied.

The state’s attorney previously dropped the most serious charge of theft involving more than $100,000. Pieri still could face prison time and forfeiture of his firefighter’s pension for a felony conviction related to his employment.

The city of Highwood placed Pieri on paid administrative leave in 2011 pending an internal investigation into the alleged wrongdoing. He continued to draw his salary of about $66,000 until two years ago, when former Highwood City Manager Scott Hartman filed a formal complaint with the city’s Board of Fire and Police Commissioners. A few weeks later, the board voted 2-1 to suspend Pieri without pay.

Hartman’s complaint alleged that Pieri “falsely claimed and/or reported compensation time for work he could have performed, at least in part, during his regular shift.” The complaint alleged his actions had cost city taxpayers about $50,000 since the start of 2007.

Highwood’s fire and police board is awaiting the outcome of the criminal case before holding a hearing to determine if Pieri’s employment should be reinstated. The panel had hired the McGrath Consulting Group to conduct a study of how Pieri was paid, and whether his position fell under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The commission later decided not to apply the results of the study.

Pieri’s defense lawyers say that if anything, Pieri was underpaid for the hours worked, and have blamed the city’s poor record-keeping for the discrepancies.

The trial was expected to continue Tuesday with additional witnesses.

Excerpts from

Several of Ronald Pieri’s colleagues from the Highwood Fire Department testified Tuesday afternoon about his work absences, early departures and time card disparities during the second day of the former deputy fire chief’s criminal trial in Lake County Circuit Court.

Among those taking the stand was Jason Noga, a Highwood firefighter and paramedic who was assigned to the red shift that Pieri supervised around 2006 and again around 2010.

Noga, a prosecution witness, said he would cover for Pieri when he was absent or left his shift early, and was responsible for putting the information into the department’s computerized scheduling system. Noga recalled that around 2008 or 2009, he was asked by Battalion Chief David Mohry to review the math in “a big stack” of Pieri’s time cards. He noted that in many instances, according to testimony, the time off had not been deducted from the bank of available time.

On Tuesday morning, defense lawyer Julie Trevarthen cross-examined Pieri’s one-time boss, former Highwood Fire Chief Thomas Lovejoy about a favorable evaluation in mid-2007 that described Pieri’s performance as “outstanding” and noted that he “far exceeds the requirements for the job.”

Speaking of the performance evaluation, Lovejoy explained, “I was directed by the city manager that (Pieri) was going to be given a $20,000 pay raise and I should prepare a city memo” to support that.

“He was an excellent firefighter and paramedic and took a great number of tasks under his wing,” Lovejoy said.

According to earlier testimony, Pieri received the substantial pay raise in July 2007 when he became an exempt employee ineligible for overtime pay.

Lovejoy said he’d been pressured by high-ranking city officials to give Pieri the title of deputy fire chief, and finally agreed with the understanding that his duties would not change and he was still responsible for working one of the 24-hour shifts.

“A deputy chief’s position, in true fashion — totally administrative — was not feasible for the Highwood Fire Department,” Lovejoy testified.

Pieri became the highest-ranking member of the department in early 2010, when Highwood eliminated the chief’s position.

The trial is expected to resume Wednesday afternoon and continue all day Thursday.

Excerpts from another post:

A Highland Park economist testified Thursday morning that the numbers used by the Lake County state’s attorney’s office to bring criminal charges against Highwood’s former deputy fire chief changed significantly between three separate calculation attempts, calling into question the reliability of the data.

“When I see numbers change this dramatically, almost 10 years (after the records were created), that calls into question the reliability of the data,” said Benjamin Wilner, an economist with accounting firm Grant Thornton. “If you build a house on a shaky foundation, it is going to fall down. It is like garbage in, garbage out.”

Wilner was called as a defense witness on the fourth day of Ronald Pieri’s criminal trial before Lake County Circuit Judge Victoria Rossetti. Pieri is being tried on charges of official misconduct, theft and false entry. Charged in 2011, Pieri is accused of falsifying time records and claiming compensation for hours not worked between January 2006 and December 2010.

Wilner testified that the prosecution had simply compared Pieri’s time cards with the log-in data on the Highwood Fire Department’s computer software, which did not take into account “non-fraud events” like days when Pieri was performing administrative duties.

“The prosecution’s model assumes that if there is a discrepancy between the firehouse software and the time cards, it must be fraud,” he said.

Before Pieri’s defense team opened its case Thursday, attorney Julie Trevarthen asked Rossetti to issue findings in favor of her client.

“I don’t think the state has come close to proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Pieri defrauded Highwood,” she said.

Rossetti denied the request, citing specifically the testimony of former Chief Thomas Lovejoy that Pieri’s change from a shift commander to deputy fire chief was “a title change only” and he was expected to function as a shift commander on the red shift.

The trial is set to resume Thursday afternoon.

Excerpts from the

On the third day of Ronald Pieri’s criminal trial in Lake County Circuit Court, a fraud analyst for the Lake County State’s Attorney’s office detailed the steps that led her to conclude that that the former Highwood Deputy Fire Chief had defrauded Highwood taxpayers of more than $58,000.

For 3 1/2 hours, Susannah Huber, a criminal intelligence analyst for Lake County prosecutors, answered questions about the calculations that showed disparities between the hours Pieri had claimed on his time cards and what the fire department’s FIREHOUSE computer software showed that he’d worked.

Asked about her conclusion, Huber said, “There were misrepresentations that would lead a reasonable person to believe that fraud was being committed.”

Defense lawyer Julie Trevarthen pointed out that an audit by the McGrath Consulting Group, conducted at the request of the City of Highwood, had found that Pieri’s position could not be classified because he was both an administrator and a firefighter. The study had concluded that no fraud had been committed. “Did you take that into your analysis?,” Trevarthen asked. “You treated his hours as if he was a non-exempt employee.”

“I treated him as being responsible for being on his shift,” Huber replied.

On Monday, Pieri’s former boss, Highwood Fire Chief Thomas Lovejoy, testified that he’d been pressured by Highwood Mayor Vincent Donofrio and Pieri’s father, Highwood Alderman Walter Pieri, to give Pieri the title of Deputy Fire Chief. Lovejoy said he’d finally agreed in January, 2007 with the understanding that Pieri’s duties would not change and he was still responsible for working his 24-hour shift. In July of 2007, he became an exempt employee and was given a $20,000 pay raise.

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Highwood mayor wants deputy fire chief to lose pay

The Chicago Tribune has an article about the Highwood FD deputy chief who has been on an administrative leave for the past two years.

Nearly two years after Highwood placed Deputy Fire Chief Ronald Pieri on paid leave amid allegations that he received compensation for hours that he didn’t work, the city manager took the first step toward suspending Pieri without pay. Highwood City Manager Scott Hartman filed a formal complaint Friday with the city’s Board of Fire and Police Commission seeking to suspend Pieri as the longtime city employee awaits trial on felony criminal charges of theft and official misconduct.

Hartman also asked that Pieri be suspended from his job immediately, but the three-member commission instead agreed to delay a decision until a formal hearing Oct. 8. “You have the authority to suspend him without pay today,” Hartman’s lawyer, Jolanta Zinevich, argued. “You don’t want a person getting paid for not working while waiting on these charges.”

Zinevich said that Pieri has “been interrogated three times” in a recent city investigation and that he would be reimbursed for lost pay should he be found not guilty of theft charges. But Pieri’s lawyer, Richard Blass, said that he had just learned about Friday’s meeting this week and asked that Hartman submit his motion for suspension in writing. “Mr. Pieri should be given the opportunity to review the charges and respond,” Blass said, adding that city officials have “sat and stared at this for two years.”

Pieri’s annual salary is about $66,000, Blass said. Though Pieri’s title is deputy fire chief, at the time he was placed on leave, he was the highest-ranking member of the Fire Department, city officials have said.

According to Hartman’s complaint with the commission, Pieri “falsely claimed and/or reported” compensatory time “for work that he could have performed (at least in part)” during his regular shift and received full pay “without fully working the shifts he was assigned to work” and “without properly reporting” benefits like sick or holiday pay.

Those alleged actions cost the city’s taxpayers “some $50,000” since Jan. 1, 2007, the complaint states.

A few of his supporters in attendance later said they believe Pieri is being targeted for political reasons. Pieri’s wife, Kathy Murphy-Pieri, is a former city alderman who lost her bid for the mayor’s seat this year.

The Fire and Police Commission members said they, too, needed time to read Hartman’s complaint. “We have been basically kept in the dark as a commission,” said member Alan Lasday. “This is the first written information I’ve seen on this.”

Pieri is due in Lake County court on the criminal charges Monday.


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