BOSTON (CBS) – Having an accident on a busy highway during rush hour is bad enough. Now imagine one of the first responders, a Boston firefighter, turns your bad day into a complete nightmare. As i-Team Reporter Joe Shortsleeve discovered, that firefighter’s conduct is now the focus of a public corruption investigation.
Driving down Route 93 on September 28, Andover resident Carey Poe suddenly heard a noise coming from under his truck. That noise was just the start of Carey Poe’s troubles.
He called 911.
“My gas tank just fell off on the highway. It’s full of gas!”
WBZ-TV’s Joe Shortsleeve reports
Poe says after stopping in the breakdown lane, “I was actually in a really good mood because we were not killed!”
But his mood went sour when his phone rang.
The man on his line was Boston Fire Department HazMat Specialist Fred Ellis Junior.
And Poe says he was angry.
“He said… hang up your damn phone and answer the next call.”
That next call was from Shawn Clarke, owner of Removal Specialists of Malden, a hazardous waste cleanup company.
Poe says, “He (Clarke) told me almost immediately, you need to give me your credit card information. I have to put a $35-hundred dollar retainer on it so that I can go cleanup the mess that you made on I-93!”
Poe says he refused and hung up but moments later Ellis was back on his line.
“He told me in no uncertain terms that if I did not call Shawn (Removal Specialists) back and give him my credit card information, I”m going to have you arrested. The clock’s ticking and you’ve got ten minutes!”
Intimidated, scared, Poe gave in. And now his bill is more than $11,000.
Shortsleeve asked Poe, “How would you characterize what Fred Ellis did?”
Poe’s response, “I would have to characterize this as extortion.”
The i-Team tracked down firefighter Fred Ellis outside his Mattapan home and tried to get him to explain his side of the side of the story.
“We have some questions we need to ask you about some rather serious accusations being made against you.”
Ellis told us to contact his superiors at Boston Fire Headquarters.
Phone records obtained by the i-Team verify the sequence of calls but when the i-Team caught up with Ellis he denied making any threats.
Shortsleeve asked, “Did you actually threaten to have a man arrested?”
As he closed the front door to his home Ellis answered, “No sir, I can’t do that.”
Carey Poe filed a complaint with the Boston Fire Department and they listened, pulling firefighter Fred Ellis off the street.
Ellis’ boss, Deputy Chief Jerry Fontana sat down with Joe Shortsleeve.
Shortsleeve asked, “Does a firefighter on your HazMat team have the right or the option to call someone up and tell them who to hire?”
Fontana answered… “No”.
Shortsleeve asked… “And if they did that?”
Fontana said, “If he did that… he would not be working for me.”
State law says motorists ‘can’ be held responsible for cleanup costs for a gas leak.
And the Boston Fire Department has a list of approved contractors people can hire if they choose.
But get this, Removal Specialists, the company that Fred Ellis allegedly insisted Poe use, is not even on it.
The i-Team called the owner of Removal Specialists, Shawn Clarke, and he promised to answer our many questions about his call to Carey Poe.
However, by the time the i-Team arrived for the interview at his Malden business Mr. Clarke had changed his mind. So we never got to ask the question… why is firefighter Fred Ellis allegedly steering business to Removal Specialists?
All those questions will be answered though. The i-Team has confirmed the Suffolk County District Attorney has now opened a formal investigation.
Suffolk County DA Dan Conley tells the i-Team, “If Mr. Poe’s allegations are in fact true and correct… I view this as a very serious incident of public corruption.”
Carey Poe says “I can’t make an accusation that there was criminal activity here but as my Dad used to say… if it walks like a duck and acts like a duck…it is duck.”
Now the owner of a New York trucking company tells the i-Team he too was pressured into hiring Removal Specialists after a crash last summer.
It is not clear how Removal Specialists learned about the crash but the owner says he was contacted in his upstate New York office minutes after the Boston Fire HazMat team arrived on the scene.
Until the investigation is complete firefighter Ellis won’t be responding to HazMat calls.
Carey Poe is disputing the charges on his credit card.
And the district attorney’s office says this investigation has just begun.