PROVIDENCE, R.I.(WPRI) - State officials have launched a telephone "hotline" for residents to report potential disability pension abuse.
General Treasurer Gina Raimondo and Attorney General Peter Kilmartin said callers can remain anonymous. The state is soliciting tips from the public for information on pensioners who were awarded a tax-free accidental disability pension – for being hurt on the job – but shouldn't be.
"A single instance of fraud costs taxpayer dollars and reduces the strength of the system for all the hard working public employees," Raimondo said. "So if we can find even a single instance of fraud I will have thought this hotline is a success."
In 2010, there were 556 retirees collecting a disability pension from the state. There are thousands more in municipal retirement plans managed independently by cities and towns.
Kilmartin said if they receive information about a potentially fraudulent disability plan in one of the independent plans, they will pass it along to that city or town.
"Whether we save the taxpayers a minimal amount of dollars or a significant amount of dollars the fact is it's a drain on the system," Kilmartin said. "It's like anything I say about this office: if you know of a problem and don't let us know, we can't address it."
Questionable disability pensions have been a point of interest for officials after Target 12 revealed retired Providence firefighter John Sauro was seen on undercover video performing strenuous exercises and lifting weights despite a shoulder injury he says he got on the job.
But the city has been unsuccessful in stripping Sauro of his pension and a criminal investigation has been closed.
Raimondo said potential fraud isn't limited to whether or not a retiree is actually disabled.
"One thing could be the person is making more income in another job and that income hasn't been reported," Raimondo said.
Disability pensioners can work another job but they must let the state know about the extra income so they can reduce their pension payment.
Callers are greeted by a recording asking for as much information as possible. People can call 24 hours a day seven days a week and messages are checked by an employee at the treasurer's office.
Raimondo said a compliance officer will investigate the initial complaint and could move to have the retirement board take action if fraud is uncovered.
The Attorney General said his office would step in if the tip rises to the level of criminality.
"They could be fined or they could have to do restitution with interest," Kilmartin said."There area variety of remedies available should anyone be engaging in this illegal activity."
The hotline number is 462-TIPS (462-8477)
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