Work problems, then pension

For these local public workers, a disability pension followed big problems on the job.

Keith Krynzel had been a Dayton police officer for three years when he committed the sex act that ultimately led to his firing in 2005.

Soon after, he received a federal tax-free disability pension that will give him benefits for the rest of his life.

Krynzel’s case is not unique.

A six-month Dayton Daily News examination found more than a dozen examples of employees — mostly public safety workers — across the region who received lucrative disability pensions through Ohio’s public employee pension system despite facing criminal charges or serious disciplinary action.

The examples the newspaper uncovered include a Huber Heights police officer caught stealing from Walmart, a Dayton police officer convicted of theft in office, a Montgomery County sheriff’s deputy investigated for an improper sexual relationship with a female inmate, and a Moraine firefighter whose back and neck injuries didn’t keep him off the golf course. Here are some of the cases:

Keith Krynzel

Krynzel, 38, was fired after he admitted engaging in sexual activity with another person in his cruiser while on duty in 2005, a violation of the city’s code of conduct, according to the findings of an internal investigation. He also was suspended for failing to respond promptly to a report of child abuse “on or about the same day,” according to the findings issued by Wanda Smith, now-retired Dayton assistant police chief.

Krynzel, who earned a base salary of $48,000 the year he was fired, filed for and received an on-duty maximum partial disability award from the Ohio Police and Fire Pension Fund (OP&F) worth 60 percent of an average of his three highest years of pay, according to David Graham, spokesman for the pension fund. Under special IRS rules for public safety workers, on-duty disability awards of up to 60 percent are exempt from federal taxes. Confidentiality rules bar the pension funds from releasing information on the reasons for a disability award.

Krynzel did not respond to requests for comment. He was not charged with a crime and, according to his Facebook page, is employed as an electrician at an area company.

Phillip E. Brooks Sr.

Dayton police Officer Phillip E. Brooks Sr., 45, was placed on administrative leave in April 2009 while police conducted a criminal and internal investigation into his use of a police database to illegally obtain impounded cars that he later sold. The investigation uncovered evidence that Brooks’ thefts went as far back as 2004.

Brooks was indicted on 22 felony counts, including theft in office, prompting Montgomery County Prosecutor Mathias Heck Jr. to send a letter in June 2009 alerting OP&F to Brooks’ case.

Beginning in 2008, Ohio law allowed for court-ordered forfeiture of pension benefits for certain crimes committed in office by a limited number of mostly higher ranking public officials. However, Brooks’ crimes occurred before the law took effect, and his pension was not eligible for forfeiture.

Brooks retired on the same day he was awarded an on-duty disability retirement from OP&F in 2009.

He pleaded guilty to nine felony counts, including theft in office, and served three months in jail in 2010. He will collect federal tax-free disability checks for the rest of his life worth 60 percent of the average of his three highest years of pay. His base salary was about $59,000 the year he retired.

Brooks declined to comment.

William Estabrook, OP&F's executive director, said it is up to the pension's medical panel to weigh if a person's request for disability retirement is legitimate. The board is not told, nor does it ask, if an applicant is facing disciplinary or criminal action.
"We're trying to deal with their disability issues," he said. "That's what they're asking us for."

Estabrook said anyone who assumes that a public safety officer charged with wrongdoing is not disabled physically or mentally when they apply for disability is “probably being a little prejudicial or a little judgmental.”

William M. Welch Jr.

Huber Heights police Officer William “Mike” Welch Jr., while off duty, was caught on a Walmart surveillance video in August 2008 stealing an Ohio State University gazebo, chairs and curtains, according to a Huber Heights police internal affairs report. Days later, Welch showed up again at the same Huber Heights Walmart and attempted to steal merchandise worth nearly $100 before being stopped by an employee, the report said.

Welch, who formerly worked at the store, begged the employee to let him go, saying he had been taking pills that “weren’t working,” and was getting a divorce, according to the report.

Store employees suspected Welch stole items on as many as nine occasions, but were hesitant to question him because he was a police officer, according to documents in his personnel file.

Welch was fired in September 2008 for refusing to cooperate in the department’s internal investigation. He cited “mental impairment” for not cooperating, according to his personnel file. Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation documents in his file also indicate Welch refused to provide documentation after his termination about his medical problems and would not sign a medical information release.

In November 2008, Welch pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor theft charge and agreed to one year of community control in lieu of spending 180 days in jail, according to court records.

The following April, OP&F awarded Welch an off-duty disability pension worth 51 percent of his average salary for his three highest years of pay. Welch was to make $60,000 in base pay the year he was terminated. That same month, his unemployment benefits were revoked and he was ordered to repay nearly $10,000 in benefits after it was determined he was discharged from his job with just cause.

When reached by phone Welch, 35, refused to say what his medical issues are. “Nobody knows that except for me, my doctors and my attorney,” he said.

Welch said he owns a business “doing the same thing I did as a police officer: accident reconstruction. It’s my expertise.”

He declined to talk about his tenure as a police officer, saying he didn’t want to “sling mud.”

Anthony J. Phibbs

Anthony J. Phibbs was on sick leave from the Moraine Fire Department for months — even using donated sick time from other employees — due to back and neck injuries when he was questioned about playing golf in September 2009 and threatened with termination for misconduct, according to his personnel file.

Phibbs, now 47, has a documented medical history related to lower back, shoulder, neck and hip pain that he said stems from numerous on-the-job injuries that kept him out of work for weeks and months at a time from 2007 to 2009.

In the summer of 2009, he applied for a medical disability after a doctor determined he could not return to unrestricted duty, according to his personnel file.

He had been off work on medical leave since March 2009, Moraine officials said, when he was seen golfing at Community Golf Course in Dayton. According to interviews and emails obtained by the Daily News, Phibbs “ended up playing out” with Kettering City Manager Mark Schwieterman. At the golf course, Phibbs discussed his medical problems and said he was working at his father’s window-cleaning business while on leave from the fire department, according to the emails.

Phibbs first denied golfing in a conversation with Dave Cooper, deputy fire chief, then acknowledged using the putting greens, according to an email Cooper sent to his boss, Moraine fire Chief Anthony Trick. Phibbs said he never denied playing golf, “he only wanted to see the city prove it,” Cooper wrote in the email.

Phibbs recently told the Daily News he played “one-and-a-half holes” and then stopped.

In a Sept. 30, 2009, email to Trick and John Grumbles, the city’s human resources director, Cooper said he told Phibbs “not to engage in any activity that is in contrast with his medical restrictions.”

Phibbs responded that he was “allowed (to do) anything except firefighting,” according to Cooper’s email.

Phibbs was told he could resign or face termination “because of misconduct,” the emails show. In an Oct. 1, 2009, email, Grumbles said playing golf is an activity “inconsistent with his alleged injuries (long history of neck and lower back problems).” Grumbles also noted that Phibbs denied playing golf.

“Dishonesty is a Group III Offense, with possible disciplinary actions of a 10-day suspension to termination,” he wrote.

Phibbs resigned on Oct. 9, 2009, avoiding a disciplinary hearing.

Phibbs, whose base salary that year was $62,400, was later awarded an on-duty disability pension by the OP&F, receiving a federal tax-free benefit worth 60 percent of an average of three years of his highest pay.

“I had five back injuries (over my career) related to transporting patients,” Phibbs said. “I ripped my shoulder up rescuing someone. I have a titanium disk in my neck from wearing all that heavy equipment.”

Phibbs said his injuries prevent him from performing his duties as a firefighter, but not other things.

“You have no idea what the physical constraints are to be a fireman or the physical fortitude you need to have,” Phibbs said. “It was very painful to wear a 7-pound helmet and 60 pounds worth of gear. How do you equate that to going out and putting on a putting green?”

Phibbs said he helps his father with a small window-cleaning business, but doesn’t wash windows. He said he also has a “desk job” at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

“People are upset or envious that I got a pension,” Phibbs said. “I have a wife and kids, cars and house. It’s not a life of luxury. I can get up in the morning and hardly get out of bed, then other days I can go out and shoot hoops with my son.”

Christie Waddell

Huber Heights dispatcher Christie Waddell was fired in 2001 after a long history of disciplinary problems, including failure to report for duty. Two years after her firing, OPERS awarded her a disability pension retroactive to her termination date.

Waddell, 60, said she has “severe back issues” and “issues with my spine” that are the result of sitting in a chair at work for long periods of time. “It took a toll on my body,” she said.

She received $34,515 in a lump sum payout for unused vacation and sick leave, more than her annual base salary of $34,100.

Waddell claims she no longer receives disability checks because she did not meet the requirements of an annual checkup “about four years ago.” OPERS spokeswoman Julie Graham-Price said Waddell is a retiree receiving benefits but, citing privacy rules, would not say if Waddell is on disability.

Waddell is currently the subject of a criminal investigation related to alleged theft of funds paid to a deceased acquaintance, according to a Huber Heights police report. Heck’s spokesman, Greg Flannagan, said the case remains under investigation and declined to comment.

Paul Hyatt

Montgomery County Sheriff’s Deputy Paul Hyatt resigned in August 2003, citing “extreme mental and physical stress.” At the time he was under investigation for an improper sexual encounter with a female jail inmate.

Months later, OPERS awarded Hyatt, now 48, a disability pension for “stress,” according to his personnel file. OPERS would not reveal the size of Hyatt’s pension, but he made $42,500 in base pay the year he resigned.

“I didn’t want to go through that (internal investigation) process so I just quit,” Hyatt said.

Hyatt, who said he is unemployed and can’t survive on his pension, feels his disability was justified because of stress incurred as a result of the allegations.

“People came after me to screw me,” said Hyatt, who denies wrongdoing

Then-Sheriff Dave Vore disagreed with Hyatt’s take.

“Under no circumstance would we ever go out and screw anybody or deprive them of due process,” Vore said. “He was put on administrative leave pending an internal investigation, then he resigned before the investigation was completed so I don’t how you can claim you were maligned.”

Sheriff’s Deputy Bryan Statzer, president of the Montgomery County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 104, said too often members who get in trouble use the disability pension system as a way to avoid an internal investigation.

“They are doing it to avoid facing the music and that doesn’t sit well with me and it doesn’t sit well with our membership,” he said.

ExploreTweets by LynnHulseyDDN

About the Author