2 Former Montgomery Assistant Police Chiefs Cleared in Disability Benefits Probe
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Federal investigators have cleared two former Montgomery County assistant police chiefs whose disability retirement benefits they began investigating last year, local government officials said yesterday.
The U.S. attorney's office notified Montgomery and Gaithersburg officials yesterday that it will not file criminal charges against John A. King and William C. O'Toole.
"It is affirmation that he's done nothing wrong," said Richard Finci, an attorney for King, who receives disability payments from the county while working as Gaithersburg's police chief. "John is very glad that he can put his full focus on his duties."
O'Toole, executive director of the Northern Virginia Criminal Justice Training Academy, did not return e-mail or telephone messages seeking comment. He has said that he did nothing wrong.
Controversy over the disability retirements of King and O'Toole surfaced last year, when county officials began investigating the program. King took and passed a physical before getting the Gaithersburg job and before the county approved his disability package. O'Toole participated in a physical fitness challenge that included sit-ups and push-ups one year after receiving his disability package.
The cases of King and O'Toole were detailed in a highly critical report in the fall by the county's inspector general. County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) said he first became alarmed by the high number of police disability retirements in Montgomery, compared with the number in nearby jurisdictions, in part after hearing complaints about King's case.
A Washington Post analysis found that 41 percent of officers who retired from 2000 to 2007 receive disability benefits, compared with 23 percent in Prince George's County and none in Fairfax County.
More broadly, critics of Montgomery's program have said that the problem is not officers exaggerating their claims or committing fraud but a system that has evolved and now tilts toward officers. King's attorney, who says that King was contractually entitled to the payments because of his injuries, said, "It's not a crime to have a union that negotiates favorable benefits."
The decision to conclude the federal investigation comes as the County Council is scheduled to vote this month on legislation that would redesign the program by establishing a partial disability benefit for those still able to work. Separately, labor negotiations over potential changes have intensified this week.
"The disability retirement system is broken and needs fixing," Leggett said in a statement. "This reform effort has always been about the system, not about individual cases. I remain committed to changing that system."
In October, federal authorities subpoenaed personnel records on King and O'Toole. The subpoena to Gaithersburg officials showed that investigators were interested in how King presented his fitness for the job and whether that conflicted with information he submitted to the county about his disability retirement.
King has said that for years he worked in pain, stemming from back injuries early in his career, and that his new post in Gaithersburg is not physically demanding. King was approved for a tax-exempt pension of $88,000 for fiscal 2008.
O'Toole was approved for disability in 2006 and was scheduled to receive disability benefits of about $95,000 in fiscal 2008, according to the inspector general's report. In 2007, he participated in the fitness challenge. O'Toole told the Post in an earlier e-mail that it was "ill-advised" to participate in the contest because of his back injuries. He also said his case "involves absolutely no fraud, waste, abuse or deceit in any way, shape or form."