Investigation: Theft, mismanagement at Columbus Division of Fire cost taxpayers $443,000

Assistant Chief James Cannell, Chief Kevin O'Connor.Deputy Chief Jack Reall (Columbus Division of Fire)
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COLUMBUS, Ohio — There are allegations of theft, dishonesty and mismanagement at the top levels of the Columbus Division of Fire and investigators say it cost taxpayers nearly half a million dollars.

They are three of the men at the top of the Columbus Division of Fire: Deputy Chief Jack Reall; his supervisor, Assistant Chief James Cannell and his supervisor, Columbus Fire Chief Kevin O'Connor.

Reall faces the possibility of termination and criminal charges, Cannell faces termination and O'Connor faces suspension.

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A draft copy of the Columbus Department of Public Safety investigation lays out the allegations against each.

The investigation focuses on appropriate use and oversight of something called Company Business Vacancy (CBV) within the fire department. CBV is a code indicating an employee is working for the Division, but not in their current position.

The investigation finds that Reall "banked 890 hours of time... he was not entitled to," and "inappropriately used 469.9 hours of CBV time... and 343 hours in a manner that can only be described as falsification of payroll."

Because of the importance of his position, the city says, "Deputy Chiefs are typically back-filled when they are off work, which creates a domino effect that impacts 4 ranks below the vacancy, that must be filled by employees working... at premium pay or overtime."

The city says because of that, the total cost of Reall's alleged abuse and falsification is $442,983.36 over two years.

The investigation found seven instances where "Reall pretended to perform work for the City of Columbus while also getting paid concurrently and redundantly by the City... and other employees."

According to the city, "during the investigation, Reall went back and retroactively made changes," to his time records, "in some cases 8 months after the event."

"Reall claims he was given a warning from Chief O'Connor that others were watching him," an allegation O'Connor denies.

According to the report, Assistant Chief Cannell relied on the "honor system" for Deputy Chiefs' use of CBV time, and admitted "he never checked" behind them.

Investigators say "Cannell did not believe it was a problem until someone got caught."

They say he "encouraged the environment of non-accountability," and "feigned ignorance to the abuse of time."

They say Chief O'Connor "was given notice of these problems, but failed to take sufficient action to address" them.

The investigation makes the following recommendations:

  • Criminal prosecution for Reall
  • Termination for both Reall and Cannell, and a possible civil suit against him and Cannell "to recoup money inappropriately taken from the City."
  • Administrative charges against Reall for dishonesty, falsifying records and stealing.
  • Administrative charges against Cannell for dishonesty, falsifying records and neglect of duty.
  • Administrative charges against Chief O'Connor for failing to discipline subordinates and failing to perform his duties competently.

For O'Connor, the city recommends a 96-hour suspension.

The City Attorney's Office is currently reviewing the investigation for consideration of charges against Reall.

From there, it will go to Safety Director Ned Pettus, who will decide whether to file administrative charges against any of the three men.

Neither O'Connor or Cannell responded to requests for comment.

Jack Reall's attorney, Brad Koffel, told 10TV:

"This is not criminal conduct. This is about reconciling paid time off and third party compensable time with various time management applications inside the Division of Fire."

You can read the full draft report here.

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