State confirms probe at Boardman Fire Dept.
By Ashley Luthern
The Ohio Attorney General’s Office has confirmed an ongoing investigation at the Boardman Fire Department.
Boardman Township police requested assistance from the Bureau of Criminal Investigation earlier this year, said attorney general spokeswoman Jill Del Greco.
“We do have an open investigation involving the Boardman Township Fire Department. I can’t comment on what it’s about. It was requested that BCI get involved on July 25 of this year at the request of the Boardman Police Department,” she said.
“Because we’re assisting, it’s up to the Boardman Township Police Department if it wants to release the reason why,” she added.
Police Chief Jack Nichols declined to comment because the investigation is ongoing. Fire Chief George Brown also declined to comment.
Trustee Chairman Brad Calhoun sent a written statement: “On behalf of the Boardman Board of Trustees, we have been advised not to make comment on this investigation. We are aware of an investigation by the BCI and have cooperated as requested.”
Harry Wolfe, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 1176, could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Del Greco released a redacted copy of Boardman police’s letter to BCI for assistance in the investigation in response to a Vindicator request under Ohio open-records law.
The letter from Nichols states two township detectives have been assigned to the case, but the exact nature and allegations were redacted by BCI under laws governing confidential law-enforcement investigatory records.
When BCI is an assisting agency, it presents findings to the local agency, Del Greco said.
“We present to the police what the findings would be, and then police would take it to the prosecutor,” she said. At that point a determination would be made on whether charges should be brought.
The alleged infraction or offense within the Boardman Fire Department is unknown.
Around the state, other fire departments’ practices have come under scrutiny after local audits and investigations and later drew the attention of the state attorney general’s office and Ohio Ethics Commission.
These investigations have been related to “shift trades” abuses, such as firefighters trading shift hours with other firefighters and sometimes paying firefighters to take over a shift. These trades sometimes took place to allow firefighters to work more hours at a second job than permitted under local agreements, and for those who took the shifts to collect more overtime. For example:
In Canton, five firefighters were fired after an investigation that concluded firefighters accepted payments for shift trades, according to The Plain Dealer. In that case, the attorney general’s office said there was insufficient evidence for a criminal complaint.
In Cleveland, an internal payroll audit led to an investigation by a retired federal prosecutor, Cleveland police and the Ohio Ethics Commission, which then presented findings recommending criminal prosecution of five firefighters accused of paying their colleagues to cover shifts.