CLEVELAND -- The last of 13 firefighters facing charges for paying coworkers to cover their shifts entered a guilty plea as expected today.
Calvin Robinson pleaded guilty to complicity to receiving unlawful compensation, a first-degree misdemeanor. The judge ordered Robinson to pay court costs as a result of the plea but did not assess a fine.
Robinson apologized in court saying he was "sorry about the whole situation."
Twelve other firefighters charged as part of a payroll investigation entered guilty pleas on Feb. 10.
Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty referred to Robinson in a release as the "king of this scheme." According to McGinty in a written statement released following the acceptance of the plea, "During the time under investigation, he missed 8,456 hours of work. That is more than three and a half years away from the job. During 2009, 2010 and the portion of 2011 that investigators also examined, Mr. Robinson showed up to work for a total of 27.4 days. Yet each year he still pocketed roughly $53,890 in salary and received benefits worth another $27,000 -- all while earning substantial income in other enterprises."
Defense attorney Henry Hilow disputed the prosecutor's numbers in the case, and Robinson's defense team told the court that the shift-trading was legal under the department's union contract.
Under the union contract, firefighters were allowed to have colleagues work for them, but hours were supposed to be paid back within one year. Many times that did not happen.
A city audit accused firefighters of methodically exploiting the system. Mayor Frank Jackson claimed the practice disclosed a lack of management oversight.
The city has since set stricter limits on the number of shifts that could be traded.
Individual firefighters cannot owe more than 144 hours.
Firefighters argued cases found federal labor law said shift trading was not illegal. But Ohio state law bans public employees from paying someone to do their work or taking money under the table to work for someone else.
A special prosecutor and county Prosecutor Tim McGinty decided Ohio law takes precedence.
The city of Cleveland released this statement Thursday afternoon:
A pre-disciplinary hearing will be scheduled for firefighter Calvin Robinson, who pleaded guilty today to a misdemeanor charge stemming from a grand jury indictment last year prompted by the city's internal investigation and audits of shift trades, payroll, timekeeping and record keeping in the Division of Fire.
As a result of those audits, the city hired former federal prosecutor Ronald Bakeman to assist the Cleveland Division of Police Internal Affairs Unit in determining if there was any criminality involved in the shift trade practices of individual firefighters.
The resulting report was given to the county prosecutor's office for review in August 2012.
With the audit findings and at the direction of Mayor Frank G. Jackson, numerous changes have been made within the Division of Fire, including the implementation of a revised shift trade policy in 2012, enhanced supervisory training and the use of technology to ensure more accurate payroll record keeping. In addition, as part of the ongoing integration of the Divisions of Fire and EMS, timekeeping and payroll functions for the two divisions have been consolidated under the oversight of a civilian manager who reports directly to an assistant director of public safety.
Per city policy, Robinson was placed on unpaid administrative leave on May 22, 2013, pending adjudication of the felony and misdemeanor charges filed against him on May 17, 2013. He will remain on unpaid administrative leave until his disciplinary hearing. He was one of 13 firefighters charged in the case. The other 12 firefighters each plead guilty to a misdemeanor in February of this year.