FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – One of four Ft. Lauderdale firefighters accused in phony training and certification scam bonded out of jail Thursday afternoon after appearing before a judge earlier in the day.
During the hearing, a judge ruled that Freddie Batista had met the financial requirements for bail and could be released from jail once he posts the $50,000 bond.
On his way out of the Broward Jail, Batista said he was proud to be a Fort Lauderdale firefighter and that he believes he was targeted, though he did not elaborate. Instead, he told reporters to talk to Fort Lauderdale Fire Chief Jeffrey Justinak for details.
Batista, along with firefighters Greg Jones, Joseph Perri, Steve Loleski and former firefighter Michael Reimer face a slew of charges, including conspiracy to commit perjury, forgery, grand theft, and official misconduct.
Batista, Jones, Perri and Loleski were arrested Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. Reimer, who recently resigned, has a warrant out for his arrest.
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. Firefighters who are certified in CPR are entitled to a 10 to 15 percent boost in pay.
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, 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.
Random checks were done on over 300 certification cards and all were found to be in order according to the city.