TAMPA — Three shift commanders with Hillsborough County Fire Rescue were placed on paid administrative leave Wednesday after they were accused of falsifying their time cards when their boss was on vacation, county records show.
Deputy Fire Chief of Operations Newell "Chip" Branam, supervisor for the three, also was placed on paid administrative leave "until further notice" while an outside agency hired by the county reviews the allegations, county spokeswoman Liana Lopez confirmed in an email Thursday to the Tampa Bay Times.
Michael Guincho, Grant Preseau and Nelson Diez were notified by letters Wednesday that they are now subjects of an "administrative proceeding" as Fire Rescue reviews their electronic time card entries.
In those letters, obtained by the Times, division personnel chief Todd Carnell wrote that the time cards show "dates and hours wherein it appears you did not work, but the TeleStaff system indicates you were on regular duty status."
Fire Chief Dennis Jones, the official "complainant" in the review, first told Deputy County Administrator Greg Horwedel on June 8 that he was concerned about the time cards, according to a memo Horwedel sent the next day to County Administrator Mike Merrill.
The chief compared the time cards to the department's rotational fill-in schedule and concluded there was a "reasonable basis for a further investigation," Horwedel wrote. He requested Merrill's permission to hire the private investigations firm of James Orr, a former special agent and polygraph examiner with the FBI.
"If theft is proven as a result of this investigation, I will recommend significant discipline, up to and including termination of employment," Horwedel wrote in the memo. "Because of the serious nature of this matter, I recommend that we hire the outside investigator as proposed."
Horwedel estimated the cost of hiring James Orr at no more than $5,000. With Orr's help, the investigation should be finished within a week after the shift commanders are interviewed, the memo said.
Shift commanders aren't covered under the county's contract with the firefighters union but because they are certified firefighters, there are tight protocols for conducting interviews involving potential disciplinary action.
The commanders' interviews were scheduled for 9 a.m. Thursday at Fire Rescue headquarters.