JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A lieutenant with the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department was arrested last week on a charge of organized fraud following an investigation by the department looking into the time firefighters have taken off for bereavement leave.
JFRD Lt. Johnnie Buchanan, who has since bonded out of the Duval County jail, is suspended and could be fired.
According to the warrant, on Aug. 2, a chief with JFRD requested assistance from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Integrity Unit for potential fraud involving bereavement leave.
The chief told investigators that Buchanan submitted duplicate bereavement leave requests for the same family member, two years apart, according to the warrant.
The warrant states Buchanan submitted a request on Oct 12, 2018, for an aunt. Per policy, he submitted a funeral service pamphlet to JFRD human resources as part of the request, and he was given 24 hours of bereavement leave, the warrant shows.
On Oct. 30, 2020, according to the warrant, he requested bereavement leave for the same family member, submitting an identical funeral pamphlet but with the date of death and funeral cropped out. The warrant says his leave was approved.
During an audit of bereavement leave requests, according to the warrant, JFRD HR noticed the duplicates and tried to contact Buchanan several times — once in April and three times in July — via phone and email to try to clarify it. According to the warrant, HR asked him to submit paperwork on the 2020 request, with visible dates, and he eventually submitted it, which showed the same dates as the 2018 request.
Investigators reached out to Buchanan, who “refused to be interviewed,” the warrant states.
According to JFRD, the dollar value for the loss from the second bereavement leave is about $900.
News4Jax tried to contact Buchanan for comment but had not heard back as of Wednesday afternoon.
The head of the fire union said they want to make sure this is a fair investigation.
“Anytime there is an accusation of any sort of rule infraction or anything, we take it very seriously. There are rights that the members have. We make sure that those rights are followed and that there is a thorough investigation to whatever sort of obligation is made. In the end, the truth will come out, and it will either be right or wrong,” said Randy Wyse, president of the Jacksonville Association of Firefighters.
The JFRD bereavement leave policy allows for time off for the deaths of immediate family members, which include parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, step-brothers, step-sisters and in-laws.
Copyright 2021 by WJXT News4Jax – All rights reserved.