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Friday, November 11, 2011

LAFD captain investigated over vacation pay

Vacation, overtime, bonus pay boosted Capt. Eric Vasquez's wages by about $77,000 more than base salary of $108,000, according to payroll

LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles city fire captain has been placed on leave for allegedly falsifying his timecard after auditors found he was paid $50,000 in vacation time last year, the equivalent of nearly 23 weeks of pay, city documents obtained by the Daily News show.

Vacation, overtime and bonus pay boosted Capt. Eric Vasquez's wages by about $77,000 more than his base salary of $108,000, according to payroll information obtained under the California Public Records Act.

The alleged discrepancies by Vasquez - a 17-year LAFD veteran whose duties involved supervising time sheet data entry, including his own - were discovered last month by the City Controller's Office when the department submitted payroll data electronically for the first time.

Until October, the LAFD was the only city agency still handling time sheets manually - a risk that the Controller's Office had flagged in an audit in February.

Vasquez was placed on administrative leave and his computer and other documentation were confiscated. City officials could not immediately say if he was continuing to receive his salary while on leave.

Efforts to contact Vasquez for comment were unsuccessful.

United Firefighters of Los Angeles City President Jeff Dapper said he could not comment on the case because it involved an ongoing investigation.

This is the latest case of city employees facing scrutiny for possible timecard abuse.

Earlier this year, six workers in the Department of Building and Safety were fired after an investigation into falsifying timecards. There was also an inquiry of timecard issues in the Department of Animal Services.

LAFD officials said they could not comment on Vasquez's vacation pay because it is a personnel issue that is still under investigation.

Vasquez had been working in the In-Service Training Division at the Frank Hotchkin Memorial Training Center where he was in charge of timekeeping for the section and manually entered the information for vacation pay.

Vasquez, like other fire captains, has a base salary of $108,451.

But, with the added overtime and vacation, his pay in 2010 was $185,645. In 2009, it was $168,494.

Records show that Vasquez charged the city for 919 hours of vacation in 2010 - or the equivalent of nearly 23 weeks, for pay of $50,501.

From January to September of this year, Vasquez was paid for 459 hours of vacation, for $25,223.

Under the city's contract with the union representing firefighters, Vasquez would earn 24 days of vacation a year and could accrue a maximum of 48 days - or 9.6 weeks.

The LAFD issued a statement that the problems were turned up as the city reviewed its new payroll system, and the matter is now being investigated by the department's new Professional Standards Division.

"The Los Angeles Fire Department and the Los Angeles City Controller's Office have been working collaboratively over the past three years to implement a new payroll system for the LAFD," the statement said.

"During the process of reconciling and validating each LAFD member's vacation balance, the City Controller's Office and the LAFD discovered an inconsistency in a member's vacation timekeeping where the member exceeded the accrued allowance."

Since the new payroll system was installed, Controller Wendy Greuel said it has shown extra vacation time paid to about 50 other employees in the Fire Department, but none nearly as high as the amounts recorded by Vazquez.

Some may have been accidental or related to the new system and none were in excess of a few days.

"This is why we have been pushing so hard for an automated system," Greuel said. "Some of the problems were systemic. This one caused us to initiate a review and ask the department to look at it."

Fire Chief Brian Cummings said he could not comment about an ongoing investigation.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was advised of the ongoing investigation by the Professional Standards Division.

"The mayor is aware of the ongoing investigation," spokesman Peter Sanders said.

"The mayor developed the PSD to uncover and investigate cases like this because he believes our Fire Department needs to uphold the highest standards of integrity
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