Four City of Fort Lauderdale firefighters have been arrested and a warrant has been issued for one former firefighter on charges of using bogus medical certification cards in a yearlong corruption investigation.
According to Ft. Lauderdale Police, the investigation began when a routine audit by the State of Florida's Department of Health in August of 2011 discovered a sketchy document.
That's when the FBI, the Broward County Public Corruption Task Force and the Broward County Office of Inspector General stepped in.
The document in question is a forged certification for Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support. Employees of the city are required to have said certificate, and it also apparently earns paramedics a pay bump of 10 to 15 percent, according to authorities.
Freddie Batista, 36, a 14-year veteran of the department; Steve Loleski, 35, a 12-year veteran; Gregory Jones, 28, a 6-year veteran; and Joseph Perri, 27, also a 6-year veteran, were all arrested, and a fifth warrant has been issued for Michael Reimer, a recently resigned 12-year veteran.
Reimer, Loleski and Jones have been charged with uttering a forged document, grand theft, official misconduct and conspiracy to commit perjury. Perri was charged with uttering a forged document and official misconduct.
Batista is charged with five counts of forgery and five counts of official misconduct.
Loleski was also arrested back in August on charges of extortion/threats and criminal attempt to solicit or conspire after he recorded a private conversation and tried to use it against another member of the department. According to police, Loleski threatened to throw a monkey wrench in an investigation if the victim did not give him information about another active criminal investigation.
According to city spokesman Chaz Adams, the firefighters are all on administrative leave without pay.
Another firefighter, David Mercado, 46, has been charged with falsifying public records and is on administrative leave.
"The city of Fort Lauderdale takes these charges extremely seriously and will continue to fully cooperate with the investigating authorities," said City Manager Lee Feldman in a statement e-mailed Wednesday afternoon. "This is by no means a reflection on the more than 450 men and women who proudly serve Fort Lauderdale as members of our outstanding Fire-Rescue Department and who put their lives on the line every day to protect and serve the residents and visitors of this city."
The six accused firefighters' salaries range between $65,500 and $76,585.
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