Several months ago, Baltimore Inspector General Robert H. Pearre Jr. quietly decided to dedicate an agent solely to investigating workers' compensation and disability fraud within Baltimore's police and fire departments — and this week investigators announced charges against a former city officer accused of bilking taxpayers out of more than $30,000.
It's an effort Pearre plans to continue in future months, city officials said. Pearre has negotiated a deal with the police and fire departments to fund a full-time position in his office digging into what he calls "uniform fraud" — a move he expects to "bear significant fruit," he wrote in a recent report.
A Baltimore Sun analysis this year of hundreds of documents obtained through Public Information Act requests, as well as court records, showed numerous instances of abuse in Maryland's workers' compensation system, which made $395 million in awards in 2013. In one high-profile case, city Detective Anthony Fata sought benefits worth about $78,000 after being shot, but prosecutors said he had actually shot himself. He was convicted of perjury and fraud.
Pearre has already dedicated agents to investigating the Department of Transportation and the Department of Public Works. He said he hopes to assign an agent to take a harder look at the departments of General Services and Recreation and Parks, as well.
Kevin Harris, a spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, said she supports the inspector general's approach of assigning some agents to specialized areas by increasing staff and funding for the office.
Since 2011, the number of funded positions in the office has risen from three to nine, and the agency's budget has more than doubled from $393,000 to $821,000.
"She believes in the mission," Harris said. "It has gotten results."
This week, a former city officer who now works for the Montgomery County Police Department was charged with felony workers' compensation fraud. Officer Gilbert L. Payne, who left the Baltimore Police Department on a full disability pension in 2007, is accused of falsely testifying under oath at a September 2008 workers' compensation hearing that he was not employed, when, in fact, he was working as a sworn Towson University police officer, state prosecutors said. Payne has not responded to requests for comment.
Prosecutors said they collaborated with the city inspector general's office on the investigation.
"I put so much focus on this office because I felt like this was needed," Rawlings-Blake said. "It was very important to me to bring back that sense of integrity to city government. ... People have been disappointed by the actions of politicians. We have a long way to go to repair that trust."