Six Illinois Department of Transportation employees were fired and another eight were disciplined this year after a state investigation discovered that Emergency Traffic Patrol drivers had filed hundreds of false reports about helping stranded motorists on Chicago-area expressways.
The investigation of IDOT’s Emergency Traffic Patrol Division by the executive inspector general’s office ran from 2012 to 2016. The probe concluded that several IDOT drivers made up reports about helping motorists to make it look like they were doing more work than they were, the inspector general’s report said. In other cases, the drivers recorded inaccurate information in reports about people they actually had assisted.
One of the drivers who was fired, John Shealey, repeatedly filled in reports using false license plate numbers that were based on his parents’ birth dates, the report said. Shealey could not be reached for comment.
The inspector general’s report was completed in January but not made public until Friday, after disciplinary measures were taken.
The report found that the drivers were pressured to perform a certain number of driver assists per day, and that program supervisors failed to ensure the work was being done honestly. It also found that Emergency Traffic Patrol managers "either knew of or suspected the reporting of false assists by drivers but did nothing about it, or chose to purposefully insulate themselves from the knowledge of this systematic problem."
Two supervisors and four drivers were fired. Two other supervisors received 15-day suspensions, and six drivers received 10-day suspensions, according to a Sept. 28 letter from Bruce Harmening, chief of IDOT’s Bureau of Investigations and Compliance in the Office of Finance and Administration. The inspector general’s office included the letter, addressed to Executive Inspector General Margaret Hickey, in documents it released on Friday.
Harmening told Hickey in an Aug. 11 letter that Emergency Traffic Patrol management had implemented controls to prevent fraudulent reporting by drivers and that all drivers had been retrained.
Emergency Traffic Patrol officers are supposed to assist stranded drivers on state highways. Officers may need to change tires, provide emergency gas or jump-start batteries.
Shealey had been investigated by IDOT auditors for filing false reports and was suspended for 10 days in 2012. The inspector general’s office then began a probe to see if there were other problems in the unit.
The investigation also found drivers leaving their jobs for long periods while they were supposed to be on duty. Shealey, for example, was found to be off work for more than three hours on June 17, 2013, and more than five hours on June 18, 2013. Instead of working, he was found to be in restaurants or gas stations or parked on side streets, the report found.
Another driver was found to have repeatedly passed motorists on the side of the road but filed false reports claiming he was giving help.
A supervisor who was fired, Zenon McHugh, admitted to investigators that he had heard "shop talk" among drivers about falsifying assist reports but had not inquired about them. McHugh also told investigators, "If no one is looking, it’s not a problem," the inspector general’s office reported.
McHugh could not be reached for comment.
In 2014, all but two of the drivers cited in the investigation and all but one of the supervisors made more than $100,000 annually, the report said.