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Council demands investigation of generous pension program that doubled pay of workers who went on leave

Council demands investigation of generous pension program that doubled pay of workers who went on leave
Percy Morris' retirement announcement in the Thin Blue Line, an LAPD union magazine, highlights his affection for Cabo San Lucas, where he and his wife spent paid time off at a timeshare while on injury leave. (Los Angeles Police Protective League)

Five Los Angeles City Council members have called for an investigation and reform of a program that pays aging cops and firefighters almost double at the end of their careers while allowing them to take lengthy injury leaves, costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

The council members are responding to a Los Angeles Times investigation published Sunday, which showed that nearly half of the participants in the city's Deferred Retirement Option Plan — better known as DROP — had taken such leaves in the last decade, for injuries ranging from cumulative ailments like carpal tunnel syndrome and high blood pressure to a fall from a defective office chair.

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In a motion filed Wednesday, Councilman Mitch Englander referred to The Times' investigation, which he said presented "several egregious examples of abuse, and likely fraud."

The motion, seconded by four of Englander's colleagues, called it "critical that [the] City investigate these allegations and take steps to prevent abuses in order to protect both taxpayer funds and the integrity of the program."

Specifically, Englander's motion called for the city administrative officer to report on workers' compensation issues within DROP and "the current status of the DROP program" in general.

In a statement to The Times, Englander said the city needed to not only "be more aggressive in investigating cases of fraud and abuse, but we must revisit the fact that the DROP program was billed as being revenue neutral when it was presented to and passed by the voters. A thorough review of the program is needed to determine if that is actually the case."

The motion was seconded by City Council President Herb Wesson and Councilmen Paul Krekorian, Paul Koretz and David Ryu.

In his own statement, Ryu said "we cannot defend the indefensible" and added that The Times' investigation made it clear "that abuses of disability leave must be eliminated."

"What concerns me most is that some employees may be using this program to commit fraud against taxpayers and the city," said Krekorian, chairman of the Budget and Finance Committee.

In a Wednesday letter to Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council, the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union representing rank-and-file officers, pledged to work with the city "by increasing transparency and accountability to this important crime-fighting program" and stated that any DROP participant "found to have defrauded or abused the program should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

The Times reported that no member of DROP — which, according to its supporters, is valuable because it keeps seasoned veterans on staff for up to five more years — has ever been charged with workers' compensation fraud.

Garcetti's spokesman said the mayor believes "Englander is asking the right questions, and they ought to be answered. He will work with the council to review the program."

Twitter: @GGarciaRoberts

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Twitter: @JackDolanLAT

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