Councilman claimed thousands in undeserved benefits

Councilman Joe Carchio, who is up for reelection in November, has taken about $6,627 in undeserved benefits, a local blogger uncovered last week.

Carchio was called out by the Surf City Voice for keeping his ex-wife on his city benefits for 19 months after they divorced — a mistake on his part, Carchio said in a written statement to the Independent on Tuesday.

"Yes, I made a mistake, but one with no intended wrongdoing," he said in a statement. "After my divorce in August of 2008, I neglected to remove my former wife from the medical benefit portion of my employment with the city."

Carchio was insured for Blue Shield medical care and Delta Care dental care for himself plus one other from Aug. 29, 2008, to March 2010, according to city records.

Carchio still has one additional person on his vision benefits, according to city records.

Vision, unlike medical and dental, doesn't cost the city any additional dollars no matter how many people are on the plan.

However, the city is still concerned about the additional person, said City Atty. Jennifer McGrath. She couldn't give specific details on how the city is handling it.

The city also can't release who the additional person is due to confidentiality issues, but Carchio confirmed in his statement that it was his ex-wife.

Carchio had 30 days after his divorce to update his benefits. He went through two open enrollment sessions without updating his plan.

The city doesn't take disciplinary action on these issues unless the person refuses to immediately rectify the situation, McGrath said.

Whether it was a mistake or intentional, the city doesn't want to utilize additional resources in court if the money is returned, she said.

The situation, in addition to the scandal of overpaid council members and city employees in the city of Bell, has caused Huntington Beach to scrutinize everyone's benefits plans.

"I've very aware of what everyone else's insurance is, what everyone else has," McGrath said. "We don't have any other errors."

After Carchio's divorce came to light, the city calculated he owed about $2,782.73 for the portion the city paid for the extra benefits. He repaid that portion Sept. 22.

However, city officials miscalculated and Carchio owes an additional $3,844.55, McGrath said. Carchio has been notified of the change, but hasn't been sent a bill yet, she said, as he has been out of town on family business.

"I feel comfortable once he comes back in town, he will pay," McGrath said.

In his statement, Carchio, before the miscalculation was discovered, said he immediately reimbursed the city when notified. His former wife never used the medical benefits and had her own coverage, he said.

Carchio also pointed out in the statement he lost several thousands of dollars with the oversight, he said.

Carchio paid about $3,656 extra over the 19-month period for having an additional person on his plan, which he won't get back.

Although Carchio has taken steps to repay the city, some community members are up in arms over what they consider a breach of trust.

"I think people are shocked to see this," said resident Robert Sternberg.

Resident Cindy Cross, the executive director of the 3/1 Marines Foundation, said her reaction was different.

"My very first thought was nobody looks good under a microscope, especially during a campaign," she said.

Carchio's wife filed for divorce in June 2001, but it didn't become final until Aug. 29, 2008, according to court documents provided to the Independent.

Carchio's Form 700, a public disclosure document through the Fair Political Practices Commission, listed income from a spouse or domestic partner until his latest submission Sept. 27.

His council profile on the city website also maintains he is married, and his Facebook profile, until recently, stated he was married, according to documents provided to the Independent.

No one knew about Carchio's divorce, Sternberg said, which isn't the issue so much as the fact that Carchio was advertising his "happy go-lucky" marriage to the public.

Carchio was first elected to the City Council in 2006 and is running as the only incumbent against 20 contenders.

He has been endorsed by the fire and police unions, former Mayor Ralph Bauer and fellow Councilman Gil Coerper. Huntington Beach Firefighters' Assn. President Darrin Witt and Huntington Beach Police Officers Assn. President Kreg Muller said they will continue to endorse Carchio. Muller said he has talked to Carchio and believes he made an oversight during a very difficult time in his life. Witt said he also believes it was an oversight.

"We're going to back Joe based on the history of his four years as a city councilman and history before that," Witt said. "I believe Joe is someone who is extremely passionate about this city … he truly has the best interests of the city at heart."

Coerper and Bauer couldn't be reached to re-confirm their continued endorsement.

Other community members, though, are concerned about the situation. Huntington Beach Downtown Residents Assn. spokesman Kim Kramer said the situation is very serious and hurts Carchio's credibility. Kramer also questioned how someone could make such a mistake.

"I like Joe Carchio and I personally contributed to his campaign," Kramer said. "He's been a good friend to the [association] and I wish him well, but these revelations are very disappointing and they raise serious concerns about his continued service to the city."

Sternberg, who voted for Carchio in 2006, said he feels let down and will wait to see how Carchio handles the situation before he decides whether to vote for him again.

"We don't want to beat him to death, but come on," he said, adding later, "I think he has to own up to and come and do a sincere apology."

Carchio, though, said in his statement that he won't speak on the issue anymore.

"We all have personal issues in our lives, that is what makes us human," he said in the statement. "I will not speak further to these accusations since any response would only be viewed as my defense to stupid, but not intentional, mistakes."

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