FORMER BEACH POLICE CHIEF AND POLICE OFFICERS CITE A RICO SCHEME TO DEFRAUD FOR UNPAID MEDICAL BENEFITS.
In a litigious society, it is easy for people to sue over every little thing and the City Of Miami Beach is not immune.
In fact they acknowledge and field off lawsuits almost monthly. If it is not irate homeowners suing over permits, then it’s drunken partiers who scream brutality at the hands of police.
One such lawsuit has been served to the City attorney by a very familiar name to the general public and the city.
Former Miami Beach former Police Chief Carlos Noriega, along with Current Miami Beach Fraternal Order of Police President Sgt. Alejandro Bello and former police officers Charles Press and George Lerra have filed a joint class-action lawsuit claiming the city engaged in a RICO Act “scheme to defraud” police officers.
It seems that while on the job each man experienced either major hypertension or heart disease while in service to Miami Beach. The kicker is that each individual worked with and filed workers comp paperwork with Johns Eastern, the City’s insurance carrier, claiming impairment benefits. According to their lawsuit, they were never paid these benefits and that the city practiced a RICO Act “scheme to defraud” police officers out of worker’s compensation benefits.
Impairment benefits are awarded in addition to medical expenses and lost wages based on the doctor’s assessment of the patient condition.
“Under Florida law, police officers, firefighters and other first responders, who risk their lives on a daily basis to protect the public, are subjected to certain work hazards that cause hypertension and heart disease,” said Attorney Edward Zebersky who is representing the former police officers in the suit filed March 20.
“They are entitled to certain worker’s compensation benefits. Unfortunately, for years, the City of Miami Beach, through their administrator Johns Eastern, has totally failed to follow Florida law and pay these benefits to civil servants who have done nothing but protect the public. this failure is based on a general business scheme to ignore the laws and a systematic failure to properly treat these first responders in accordance with the law.”
The lawsuit claims that the City of Miami Beach decided to place its profits over the health, welfare and well-being of the very same law-enforcement officers it relies on. And, that the failure to pay out benefits was “either designed, conditioned or condoned” by Miami Beach, along with Johns Eastern, and the doctors who treated the officers.
On April 3, City Attorney Jose Smith sent out a memo explaining the lawsuit to Mayor Bower, the City Commissioners and the City Managers.
“Simply put, this lawsuit is a farce. It is patently frivolous, offensive, scandalous and just plain wrong.” he stated baldly.
Zebersky responded to this memo via his own statement:
“Never once did the memo state that the officers are NOT entitled to the benefits,” he said. “Rather, the city attorney told the Mayor and Commissioners that the claims are frivolous and a farce based on a matter of procedure.”
He went on to quote an existing Florida Court case, Aguilera v. Interservices Inc., where the Florida Supreme Courtdetermined that employers and their administrators who intentionally refuse to pay benefits, is not applicable.
“So, the only farce is the lack of legal research that was conducted by the City Attorney prior to issuing the memorandum to the mayor and the commissioners.” Zebersky said.
George Lerra first discovered he was owed these benefits after attending a seminar led by Zebersky’s law partner, Geoffrey Bichler.
Lerra’s estimated payment at the time would have been around $10,00 – $15,000. Adjusted to today’s dollars, that figure with interest and penalties is much more according to Zebersky.
“We didn’t even know to ask about this money due to us and we were surprised to learn that the insurance company and the City seemed to either ignore the paperwork filed by our doctors or failed to ask for it.” said Lerra.