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Disabled Chicago paramedic is now a Cook County Forest Preserve cop

Monday, September 17, 2012
Chicago Sun-Times
by TIM NOVAK AND CHRIS FUSCO

WATCHDOGS-CST-091712b(600wide)

RELATED DOCUMENTS

 Graphic: Anatomy of a cop's injury claims


A hand injury Gregory J. Serratore suffered while trying to fix a stalled ambulance 32 years ago kept him from returning to work as a paramedic.


So Serratore made a deal to leave the Chicago Fire Department.

He’s been collecting disability checks of about $14,500 a year ever since — about $5,000 less than the $19,776 he was pulling in as a paramedic.

Despite his claim of permanent disability, Serratore eventually found another government job — as a police officer with the Cook County Forest Preserve District.

He landed that job after writing on his application that he was in “excellent” physical condition, according to the latest finding of a Chicago Sun-Times investigation into police and fire disability-pay excesses.

Serratore was working at Holy Cross Hospital when he joined the fire department as a paramedic on Feb. 4, 1980, at 23.


Eight months later, his ambulance stalled at 67th and State. While trying to fix a fan blade to get the vehicle going, he cut his left hand, according to city records.

On April 22, 1982, Serratore went on disability leave. He would never return to the fire department. He was 26 years old.

In all, records show he has gotten more than $425,000 in disability checks since 1982. He’ll be able to draw those checks until his 65th birthday and then begin collecting a city pension.

Now 55 and living in Crestwood, Serratore, who declined interview requests, has been getting disability checks longer than all but one other person getting disability pay from the Municipal Employees’ Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago, the taxpayer-subsidized pension plan under which he was covered. It no longer covers paramedics.

Nine years after going on disability leave from the fire department, Serratore applied to be a forest preserve district cop — the application in which he described his physical condition as “excellent.”

It was an unusual situation. Memos went back and forth between the forest preserve district and city pension officials, who determined that state law allowed Serratore to work as a police officer for the forest preserves and keep on getting his city disability pay, too.

On May 2, 1991 — 10 days after Serratore got hired — forest preserve Police Chief Steve Castans got a memo from Sgt. John Tinetti stating that “the fact that Mr. Serratore is employed elsewhere will not affect his disability payments as long as his permanent disability continues. Mr. Serratore is required to submit to a physical yearly for the benefit fund to maintain his disability status.”

But Serratore hasn’t been examined since 2003, when pension officials say “his doctor stated duration of disability was lifelong.”

After Castans hired Serratore, the disabled-paramedic-turned-rookie-cop underwent 441 hours of training at the Chicago Police academy.

Serratore was a canine officer for the forest preserve district before the canine unit was disbanded in 2009.

Among city workers on disability leave, Serratore’s case is unusual because he went to work for a government agency funded in part by Chicago property taxpayers. That’s something that disabled Chicago cops are forbidden from doing under Illinois law.

Officials with the city pension fund continue to list Serratore as permanently disabled.

Asked about that in light of his employment as a police officer, James Mohler, the fund’s executive director, said: “The fund was notified by the medical director of the Chicago Fire Department that Mr. Serratore was not qualified for firefighting duty. The fund has also received statements from doctors stating that Mr. Serratore’s disability is lifelong and permanent.”

After cutting his hand while trying to get his ambulance moving in 1980, Serratore also filed a worker’s compensation claim against the city of Chicago and got a settlement of $24,363, records show.

Since going to work for the forest preserve district, Serratore has filed five more worker’s comp cases, claiming on-the-job injuries.

Under state law, Chicago police officers and firefighters cannot file such claims.

Serratore’s latest claim involves his left shoulder, which he says he hurt three years ago while trying to arrest a 76-year-old man, and then reinjured while adjusting his position while seated at a desk chair at work.

Altogether, Serratore has won $60,600 in worker’s comp settlements from the city and the forest preserves. And two of his cases against the forest preserve district have yet to be decided by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission.



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