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Cook County Jail guard suspended in workers’ comp probe

Updated: May 28, 2013 7:41PM

A Cook County Jail guard has received more than $150,000 in workers’ compensation claims since 2008, allegedly boasting to fellow employees that he was the “duty injury king.”

But the king’s been dethroned, according to Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.

Video surveillance showed the correctional officer faked an injury in his latest workers’ compensation claim in 2012, Dart said.

The sheriff is seeking to have the guard charged criminally. He’s suspended without pay.

Dart said the guard’s case demonstrates a need to review and overhaul what he called a “failing” workers’ compensation system.

“Currently, over $8 million of my budget is allocated for the payment of workers’ compensation claims, yet I have no control of how the claims are investigated, defended or paid,” Dart said.

Dart didn’t identify the guard, who joined the sheriff’s office in November 2003.

The guard was paid for three injuries that he said he suffered in 2008 alone.

He got $841 for hurting his shoulder when he tried to turn a key in a malfunctioning lock on a jail door and another $9,950 after he said an inmate hurt his hand and knee. And he received $53,476 after he said he hurt his back while pulling a cart whose wheel got stuck in a hole, records show.

The Illinois Industrial Commission, which decides on workers’ compensation claims, rejected his claim for getting kicked in the scrotum by an inmate in 2009.

But he received $76,124 for injuring his ankle after stepping in a hole during a perimeter check and $10,026 for hurting his back while walking down stairs following an inmate count, records show.

Last month, Dart suspended the guard for allegedly attempting to defraud the sheriff’s office in connection with a 2012 workers’ compensation claim.

On Nov. 20, he filed a false report claiming he hurt his back while returning from transporting an inmate, Dart said.

The guard said he slipped and fell near a gate, but his account conflicts with video footage and witness accounts, said Frank Bilecki, a spokesman for Dart.

The guard said he slipped on water on the floor outside a gate. But video shows the guard shuffling his feet outside the gate, opening it and going inside without falling, Bilecki said.

Bilecki said supervisors went to the area where the guard said he fell and saw a spot of water the size of a quarter, but it wasn’t near the gate.

“The county’s Department of Risk Management denied liability and told him to file a claim with his own insurance,” Bilecki said.

Dart said the county needs to do a better job defending itself against fraudulent workers’ compensation claims.

More than 440 cases are pending before the Illinois Industrial Commission and they’re defended by a small number of Cook County assistant state’s attorneys with big caseloads, Dart said.

“These caseloads are unacceptably high based on any objective measure, resulting in unnecessary delays that prevent the timely and fiscally responsible resolution of cases and impede the sheriff’s office from identifying and prosecuting employees who submit fraudulent claims,” he said.

Sally Daly, a spokeswoman for the state’s attorney’s office, acknowledged the caseloads are too high and said staff cuts have made the problem worse.

“That being said, we are unaware of any specific case that the sheriff has identified that the state’s attorney’s office has handled in which the outcome was negative for Cook County,” she said.

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