FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – Four Fort Lauderdale firefighters and one former firefighter face a slew of charges, including conspiracy to commit perjury, forgery, grand theft, and official misconduct.
Firefighters Freddie Batista, Greg Jones, Joseph Perri and Steve Loleski were arrested Tuesday night and Wednesday morning by members of a multi-agency public corruption task force operating in Broward County.
Former firefighter Michael Reimer, who recently resigned has a warrant out for his arrest.
Batista and Loleski appeared in bond court Wednesday morning.
The men, authorities said, are accused in a fake training and certification scheme for allegedly obtaining counterfeit training certificates without completing the mandatory courses.
The investigation began when a routine audit by the Florida Department of Health discovered the fraudulent documents, according to Fort Lauderdale police. The documents in question were American Heart Association Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support Cards.
According to Florida law, paramedics are required to be certified and a hold a certificate of successful course completion in advanced cardiac life support from the American Heart Association. When the certificates expire every two years, firefighters and paramedics must take the course again and get a new certification.
“If they have those cards they are entitled to a boost in pay either ten or fifteen percent,” bond court judge John Jay Hurley told Loleski when he appeared for his hearing Wednesday.
During the audit, it was discovered that an ACLS card submitted by Steve Loleski appeared to be altered and possibly counterfeit, according to the arrest affidavit.
The suspicious card led to a full blown internal investigation involving the FBI, the Broward County Public Corruption Task Force, Broward State Attorney’s Office and the Broward County Office of Inspector General.
During the investigation, it was discovered that Loleski and the other accused firefighters received their ACLS cards from a company called Safety Solution Inc., owned by Michael Reimer, which was not approved to teach the advanced cardiovascular life support course, stated the affidavit. The cards of Loleski, Reimer, Jones and Perri all contained similar, suspicious characteristics including the name of a non-authorized instructor, Freddie Batista, stated the affidavit.
As a result of the fake cards, the affidavit stated, Reimer and Jones received the 15-percent pay incentive and Loleski received the 10-percent.
Loleski’s attorney Brian Silber told Judge John Hurley during Wednesday’s court hearing that his client did nothing wrong.
“My client is absolutely innocent and I look forward to destroying this case in court,” Silber said.
An arrest warrant has been issued for Reimer. He operates his business out of Boyton Beach in Palm Beach County.
Loleski, a 12-year-veteran, had already been arrested in August when he was charged with extortion and solicitation to disclose confidential criminal justice information. According to the arrest warrant, Loleski secretly taped a conversation between Fort Lauderdale Fire Chief Jeffrey Justinak and William Humphrey, president of firefighters union Local 765 IAFF.
He then allegedly threatened to release the recording and oust Humphrey as head of the union if Humphrey didn’t disclose information pertaining to an active criminal investigation. According to the warrant, Loleski wanted to know whether three fellow firefighters being investigated had “cut a deal.”
According to the city all of the arrested firefighters are on administrative leave without pay.
“It’s very disappointing,” said Ft. Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler.
“We have over 450 dedicated men and women in this department and we believe it’s isolated.”
Random checks were done on over 300 certification cards and all were found to be in order according to the city.
The mayor says the city will try to recover the ‘unearned wages.’
“The taxpayers are out dollars and we need to make sure this never happens again,” said Seiler.
The mayor says he has not lost faith in the fire chief and that the chief cooperated fully in the investigation.
The union representing the arrested firefighters says normally they don’t comment on criminal matters but offered that all Americans are innocent until proven guilty.
What baffles many observers is that the training required for the certification is offered for free through the Ft. Lauderdale Fire Department
Sources say at least one other firefighter may be arrested in the probe.