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Donna Perry: Time for Heavy Lifting on Disability Pension Reforms

Thursday, May 31, 2012


A second major advance in the recent effort to once and for all overhaul the decades in the making corrupted Providence pension system is set to launch just one month from now. Coming on the heels of the high profile pension reform ordinances recently passed by the Providence City Council will be the implementation of tougher new standards governing the disability pension system.

The disability pensions, combined with the infamous 5-6% compounded COLA’s, has long been recognized as the two headed monster of pension excess that has been feeding off city taxpayers for far too long and threatens to devour dwindling city finances if not slayed soon. But one can only hope that a new set of requirements and regulations for disability retirements set to go into effect June 30 will find their way to the “heavy lifter” title holder of disability pension corruption, retired firefighter/weightlifter John Sauro, in the wake of a troubling vote by the city Retirement Board in recent days.

The Providence Retirement Board (PRB) voted 6-1 last week to drop an eight month investigation and pursuit of possible criminal wrongdoing by Sauro and possibly others involved in legally asserting that he continues to have a full disability from Fire Department work, which were prompted by a Channel 12 investigation which showed him repeatedly engaging in heavy weightlifting at a gym despite being on a full disability pension for more than a decade. Kenneth Chiavarini, the Assistant City Solicitor who persuaded the PRB to drop the Sauro matter last week, now asserts it’s far from over for Sauro but that it made more sense going forward to re-examine the Sauro case, along with hundreds of others, under the fast approaching new disability review standards.

The overhaul is long overdue when one considers that disability pensioners like the gym attending weightlifter Sauro has accumulated hundreds of thousands of dollars from the city in a tax-free disability retirement and is now drawing nearly $4,000 a month ($3,902). Stunningly, published reports over the past year show the average firefighter disability pension is even higher than Sauro’s, at an average of $5,500 a month, and the average police officer disability payment is $4,300 a month. These are outsized retirement payments just in contrast to the average municipal worker disability payment which is $1,600 a month. There are 566 accidental disability pensions being paid out right now that alone are costing the city $2.2 million per month, and they represent 30% of the entire pension system.

The new requirements will bring changes that seem key to reducing the numbers of permanent disability claims, especially from within the ranks of police and firefighters, because for the first time, the city will mandate that a disability pension recipient can be reassigned to city employment once it’s certified by a pre-approved specialty physician that the injury does not disqualify them from the general workforce, only from their former specific job.Changes are also aimed at tightening up the restrictions on doctors who are permitted to assess eligibility: going forward, a physician must be certified in the field reasonably related to the pensioner’s disability.(Previously a chiropractor or a dentist, for example, could certify that you have a heart condition ….. gee, not too much chance for exploitation of that kind of system, right?)

The changes mean pensioners deemed eligible to work, including Sauro, could be called back into the city workforce and if they/he refuses, the new regulations would impose a penalty that would amount to a drastic reduction of the retirement to a “service pension” level.

By the way, there is an opportunity staring directly at the General Assembly right now to overhaul disability pension excesses statewide if legislative leaders, including Speaker Gordon Fox, Senate President Paiva-Weed and Finance Committee chairs would only act on the Chafee Municipal Pension Reform and Relief package. It addresses, among numerous other items, disability pension reforms for local communities and would mandate that an annual accidental disability pension cannot exceed 50% of an injured worker’s pay. (It presently hovers at 66% in most communities.)

Those current formulas weigh down local communities; city and town leaders want and need the relief; and it deserves passage, as RISC has called for all session.As Providence continues to wrestle with courts and unions over its still unresolved proposed reforms to standard pensions, and other communities start to buckle under the weight of their unfunded plans, it now appears that the beleaguered capital could at least begin this summer leading the way on reforms to tax-free disability retirements. In this case, the heavy lifting work of instituting the reforms will have been worth the workout.

Donna Perry is Executive Director of RISC, RI Statewide Coalition (http://www.statewidecoalition.com)

EDITOR'S NOTE: The original version of this story incorrectly claimed that Mr. Sauro had been earning $3,092 for 12 years. An edit has been made to reflect more accurate information.


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Don't hold your breath waiting for this union-controlled General Assembly to give this issue anything but lip service. I can already tell you what they'll say: "These are serious times and we are taking a very close look at all opportunities to lessen the burden on our taxpayers, blah, blah, blah, blah." Translation? "We are making it appear that we have real concern for RI taxpayers, but we are not going to piss off the unions that have so much control over our re-elections...the average RI will just vote for us no matter what we do as long as there is a D next to our names...but the unions really study how we vote so we need to vote their way." Well, that's one political statement you will never see in RI. It's much too honest.

Comment #1 by Captain Blacksocks on 2012 05 31

Donna, who pays you to write this dribble? We all read the story in the ProJo yesterday. And yes, we are all disgusted by it, but do you really get paid to write about the obvious? You practically plagiarized the Journal article. Put a little effort into it, will ya?

Comment #2 by watching providence on 2012 05 31

Donna, tightening the existing rules for disability pensions has already been in effect for years in Providence. The particular pension you speak of has been and will continue to be investigated. If it can be proven that he has fraudulently collected a disability pension it will come out and he will face the consequences. You and others like to use him as a poster boy for these crooked firefighters and police officers, but his is an isolated case and you know it.

The abuses were mostly from the late 80's and the 90's with a few from the early 2000's. You would be hard pressed to find a retiree from the past 10 years or so who can be accused of being fraudulent.

Chiropractors and dentists??? - you're full of cr@%!! But then again, don't let the facts get in the way of your true feelings!

You're upset that law enforcement (and the pension board) dropped their investigation of Sauro for now, right? Were you upset when the police dropped their investigation of an obviously fraudulent radio advertising ratings scam perpetrated by your brother John DePetro? No? I wonder why? Can you spell d-o-u-b-l-e s-t-a-n-d-a-r-d?

Comment #3 by Tom Kenney on 2012 06 01


Police and firefighters must be a clumsy bunch. Why so many disabilities? I'm sure many of them are true disabilities. Not so sure about most of them, considering the lax oversight.

"There are 566 accidental disability pensions being paid out right now that alone are costing the city $2.2 million per month, and they represent 30% of the entire pension system."

Comment #4 by Captain Blacksocks on 2012 06 01

So I guess Tom doesn't see anything wrong with Sauro's disability being busted on TV doing is workouts and competitions. This is the mindset that plagues RI...

Comment #5 by Bob Stanley on 2012 06 02

Mr. Kenney, you have first hand knowledge of the obtaining of a fraudulent disability at your station engine 15 back in 1999. Remember the FF who got hurt sliding into 2nd base off the job and then made an unscheduled appearance at the station to pretend his injury happened sliding down the pole. You were the Lt. at that station, you and everybody else knows about that case. Did you report that FRAUD? Did you write it in your BOOK? Did you sign a witness statement? Or give an oral statement? Sounds like you were part of the FRAUD.

Comment #6 by The Investigator on 2012 06 02

Great...someone who post under their own name is called out by an anonymous poster "The Investigator".

I never conspired in anyone's fraudulent disability pension...period.

Comment #7 by Tom Kenney on 2012 06 02

@ Bob Stanley:

I wrote a post yesterday that didn't get posted in which I addressed that issue. I'll attempt to recreate it next, but...as far as Sauro's disability investigation I stated that it didn't look any better to me than it did to everyone else. The investigation will continue, I'm sure, and if his disability is fraudulent let the chips fall where they may. ANYONE on a fraudulent disability pension should be challenged and dealt with.

Comment #8 by Tom Kenney on 2012 06 02

@ Captain Blacksocks:

Most of thos disability pensions (and all of the questionable ones) were from the 80's, 90's and early 2000's before the system was tightened and the rate of disability pensions was about 90%. Over the last 10 years or more the disability rate is around 15% (which is a little lower than the national average.

Also, it should be pointed out that anyone who had served 28 years or more and recieved a disability pension never drew an extra dime from the system because of the disability status.

Comment #9 by Tom Kenney on 2012 06 02

And...many of those so-called questionable disability pensions were given to members who had multiple compounded injuries over a 28 year career and were unable to continue firefighting work due to these injuries. Now the ctriteria is that a disability pension needs to be from a single injury which was sustained on the job and not an accumulation of injuries.

Comment #10 by Tom Kenney on 2012 06 02

Also....the article states "There are 566 accidental disability pensions being paid out right now that alone are costing the city $2.2 million per month, and they represent 30% of the entire pension system."

While I have no knowledge of whether this figure is accurate, let's assume that it is.

If these disability pensions were done away with and everyone had to switch their pensions to an amount based on their service time I'd guess that the monthly payout would be in the neighborhood of $1.7 to $2 million or so. Only a difference of about $1/4 - 1/2 million.

Comment #11 by Tom Kenney on 2012 06 02

Donna Perry, maybe you can urge Comm. Pare to investigate the fraudulently obtained disabilty mentionedd earlier under Kenney's watch as the LT. of that Ff. The investigation is an easy one witnesses at the ballgame where the injury occurred a fake substitution at Kenney's firehouse to pretend injury happened on the job.

Comment #12 by The Investigator on 2012 06 02

Donna look into the other fraudulent disabilty case that Kenney is also aware of at a block party where Kenney attended and the FF injured himself playing volleyball and now works at the State Fire Marshalls office. Same circumstances as the previous case.

Comment #13 by The Investigator on 2012 06 02

Mr. Kenney your denial of criminal conspiracy omits your knowledge of those two cases and failure to report them. Everyone on the job knows about it and your connection to them.

Comment #14 by The Investigator on 2012 06 02

Mr Investigator - there's a reason that rumor isn't allowed in court. I stand by my statement that I never conspired with "anyone" on a disablity retirement claim!

Comment #15 by Tom Kenney on 2012 06 02

And.....what 2 cases? You only mentioned 1.

Comment #16 by Tom Kenney on 2012 06 02

Sorry, I missed the previous mention of some volleyball game. I have no idea where you're getting your information but it's all bull. Either you're listening and believing the wrong people or you're an outright liar!

But then again, we'll never know because I'm sure your not listed in the phone book as "The Investigator".

Comment #17 by Tom Kenney on 2012 06 02

Nice try Kenney, Donna Please investigate these cases I promise you this is 100% factual. The FF from Kenney's station went off with hip injury. Believe me he is part of the coverup.

Comment #18 by The Investigator on 2012 06 02

This former FF now runs road races. Donna you notice Kenney hasn't denied all this. There is a paper trail to my facts look into it you won't be sorry. Kenney was part of the coverup.

Comment #19 by The Investigator on 2012 06 02

I shouldn't even dignify your accusations with a response but it p.o's me when some anonymous liar speads unfactual rumors about me in a public forum.

I absolutely state that your allegations are false. I did no such thing.

As for your credibility....besides the anonymity, aren't you guilty of not reporting governmental fraud? After all, you state that your accusations are facts that you have first hand knowledge about. Who did you report these to?

I thought so...........

Comment #20 by Tom Kenney on 2012 06 02

Getting desperate Kenney. The facts speak for themselves you will be EXPOSED your GUILTY. Everyone knows the story and you were the guys LT. The truth hurts. Pare has been made aware of it. I want Donna to also look into it.

Comment #21 by The Investigator on 2012 06 02

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