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Chicago cop who pleaded guilty in disability scam still on force

Thomas Nash

Thomas Nash

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Updated: November 16, 2012 6:05AM

B y the time he turned 31, Chicago Police Officer Thomas P. Nash had hurt his knees twice while chasing suspects on the South Side.

He went on disability leave in 1995, and he stood to collect more than $1 million in tax-free disability pay by the time he reached the Chicago Police Department’s mandatory retirement age of 63.

But while on disability, Nash broke the law by taking a job with the Cook County sheriff’s office.

In January 2002, in a case that somehow remained out of the public eye, a Cook County grand jury indicted him for theft and perjury — 31 counts in all — for collecting disability pay from the city’s police pension fund while also getting a paycheck from the sheriff’s office.

Nash — the son of a crooked cop who’d gone to federal prison — pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor count of theft to avoid prison.

Then-Police Supt. Philip Cline moved to fire Nash eight years ago. But the Chicago Police Board said no, instead suspending Nash for 10 months, then returning him to the city payroll.

Today, Nash has a limited-duty desk job with the police department. He takes non-emergency reports at the city’s 311 call center, for which he makes $86,130 a year.

Police disability pay is now under scrutiny, with a federal grand jury opening an investigation earlier this month into disability claims filed by Chicago cops, as well as firefighters. The grand jury is seeking records dating to 2006 on those claims.

This comes in the wake of a Chicago Sun-Times investigation that found officers who had filed injury claims now collecting disability checks while working other jobs outside the department — as lawyers, investigators and even doing physically demanding work such as construction labor.

Chicago cops on disability leave can legally hold other jobs, but they can’t work for a government agency that collects property taxes from city residents.

That’s what tripped up Nash, who went to work for the Cook County sheriff’s office while repeatedly telling the city police pension board he wasn’t working at all.

In a brief phone interview, Nash, 52, who lives on the city’s South Side in Mount Greenwood, declined to talk about how he landed the job at the sheriff’s office. He referred questions to the police department’s news affairs office.

Records show that Nash — who stands 6-foot-7 and at one point weighed as much as 380 pounds — had undergone eight knee surgeries and three shoulder surgeries as of 2002.

He said he had both of his knees surgically replaced two years ago.

Nash grew up on the South Side. His father, Ronald E. Nash, a decorated police captain, once worked as a detective with Victor Vrdolyak, brother of former Ald. Edward R. Vrdolyak (10th), as his partner.

Thomas Nash got a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from St. Xavier University and joined the police department in September 1986. Less than three years later, his father was among four police officers indicted for taking bribes in an FBI auto-theft sting. Ronald Nash pleaded guilty and was sentenced to four years in prison.

Thomas Nash suffered the first of his injuries on July 2, 1992, while working on the department’s 22nd District tactical team. Chasing a burglary suspect in the 1700 block of West 90th Place, Nash fell in a gangway, breaking his right kneecap and tearing ligaments in his left knee. He was on sick leave for a year.

A few weeks after going back to work, Nash reported reinjuring his left knee and also dislocating his right shoulder while trying to catch a suspect in a strong-arm robbery of two 10-year-old boys in Kennedy Park. Nash chased the suspect into a grocery store near 114th and Western and “had to jump over a counter and, while doing this, felt his left knee ‘pop,’ ” according to court records.

As a result, he was off the job at various times over the next 20 months, until going on disability leave in April 1995, when he began collecting $32,688 a year in disability pay — 75 percent of his salary.

While on disability, Nash and his wife, who now have three girls, started their family.

Nash told pension officials he was helping raise his daughters while collecting disability pay, but he’d gone back to work, hired in July 2000 by then-Cook County Sheriff Michael Sheahan as a deputy sheriff, working for the merit board that screens job applicants for the office. Nash passed the firearms training exam and got his badge. His new job paid $31,451 a year, helping Nash nearly double what he was making from his disability pay.

But Nash never told the city pension fund — which oversees police disability pay — about his new job.

Every month, he completed a form that asked about any outside employment, writing “D-N-A” — short for “does not apply.” Those forms spell out: “Employment for government agency is prohibited.”

City pension officials found out Nash was working for the sheriff, and he resigned from the sheriff’s office on May 23, 2001.

The police department and pension fund doctors then deemed Nash fit to return to duty and assigned him to the 311 center.

Soon after that, a grand jury indicted him on Jan. 11, 2002, on 22 counts of theft and nine more of perjury — all of them felony charges — that accused him of illegally collecting disability pay. Facing the prospect of a prison term, Nash pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, got court supervision for two years and was ordered to repay most of the disability pay he got while working for the sheriff — $27,644.

In 2004, Cline and then-Mayor Richard M. Daley’s city law department asked the Chicago Police Board to fire Nash.

“He wasn’t entitled to duty disability benefits because he was working for Cook County, and, to put it very, very shortly and bluntly, he was double-dipping,” Lee Ferron, an attorney for City Hall, argued at a police board hearing.

“The fact is that he could have come back to work for the Chicago Police Department. . . . And we know that Officer Nash is capable of work because he went to work full-time for another employer.

“But why would Officer Nash settle for one salary from the Chicago Police Department when he could collect money from two different sources? That’s the real reason he did not return to work with the Chicago Police Department. He was making out like a bandit, collecting 75 percent of his police officer pay, plus another income.”

Nash’s lawyer, William Fahy, countered that Nash shouldn’t be fired because he hadn’t hidden the fact that he was a disabled police officer when he went to work for the sheriff’s office.

“When it all comes down to it, I think we owe a debt of gratitude to Officer Nash,” Fahy said. “He put it on the line for us out in the street. . . . He realizes the mistake he made, and the evidence points to the fact it was an honest mistake.”

The police board — appointed by Daley — refused to fire Nash, instead giving him the 10-month suspension. Cline and the mayor’s lawyers sued to overturn the decision but later dropped the case.

The police board members who voted to suspend Nash were attorneys Scott J. Davis, Patricia C. Bobb, Victor M. Gonzalez and George M. Velcich; Phyllis Apelbaum, owner of Arrow Messenger Service; the Rev. Johnny L. Miller; and William C. Kirkling, a dentist. It doesn’t appear that the board president, Demetrius Carney, voted, according to the signatures recorded for the vote.

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