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State workers suspended but paid

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State workers suspended from their jobs continue collecting paychecks for months, sometimes years, even after allegations of serious crimes, a FOX Undercover investigation has found.

Gary Mendes was suspended from his job as a lieutenant in the Department of Correction in November 2008 after he was arrested and accused of stealing "approximately $100,000 in state funds, firearms and other items from the DOC for his own personal use," the state Attorney General's office said.

But his paychecks from the Department of Correction kept coming as he continued collecting his $75,891 annual salary and even a yearly $5,223 bonus.

A member of the FOX Undercover team caught up with Mendes after his arraignment.

"You were arrested in 2008, yet you've been paid for over a year. Do you have any comment? Do you think that's fair to taxpayers?" he was asked.

Mendes didn't respond, but his attorney, Timothy Burke, said, "It doesn't bother me. And I'm a taxpayer."

"There's a presumption of innocence in any case. And that applies in this case here too," Burke said.

Burke insists his client has done nothing wrong, and says he's looking forward to proving that in court. He also defended Mendes' staying home for nearly two years while getting paid.

"The Department of Correction has control over any situation where any of their employees are charged with a crime. Obviously they made the determination that it was appropriate," Burke said.

It's far from the only time the DOC has made this determination. Records supplied by the department to FOX Undercover show that as of June 30th, the DOC was paying 19 other people to stay at home, including four facing serious criminal charges.

One correction officer has been getting paid since August 2008 -- even longer then Mendes. The records also show four others earning full pay since last year along with 10 other prison employees getting paid for about six months or longer.

"They don't care apparently what it's going to cost the taxpayers to keep people on the payroll who might very well end up in jail a couple of years later," said David Tuerck, executive director of the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University, a learning and research center which analyzes public policy issues.

"At least get them to do something useful and make them show up if they're going to get paid," he said.

"Do you think these blatant examples would be found in the private sector?" asked FOX Undercover's Mike Beaudet.

"No, because in the private sector they would find a way to either find other work for them or move them out of a job," Tuerck said.

The Department of Correction tells FOX Undercover that employees protected by civil service rules can only be suspended without pay after a hearing.

Diane Wiffin, a spokesperson with the Department of Correction, said in a letter to FOX Undercover, "Unfortunately, it takes time to gather the information necessary to conduct a civil service termination hearing. In some cases, such as the Mendes case, where there is an ongoing, active law enforcement investigation, the department cannot proceed to gather information necessary to conduct a civil service termination hearing because to do so might jeopardize the law enforcement investigation."

"In cases where the alleged illegal conduct occurs off-duty, the department may have no information at all on which it can proceed to a hearing," the letter continued.

The only other time the state can stop paying a civil service employee, according to the Department of Correction, is when the employee is indicted by a grand jury, which is what happened to Mendes. He finally stopped getting paid this summer after 20 months of paychecks and no work.

Tuerck blames lawmakers on Beacon Hill.

"It just doesn't matter to them because they're so used to throwing money at state workers without regard if it makes any sense to do so or not. It's in their DNA in the state legislature," Tuerck said. "And it's a safe bet that even after everybody finds out about this through your program that nothing will change. It's just the way it is over there."

This isn't just an issue in the prison system.

State employees who work at some human service agencies who are accused of abusing clients also get to stay home with pay. Right now, there are nine of them on paid administrative leave.

A spokesperson for Gov. Deval Patrick's administration tells us that's because state workers accused of abusing clients are often cleared of those allegations.

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