By Ryan Kath

BOSTON (CBS) – In the early morning hours of February 11, 2015, John Earley allegedly got behind the wheel of his Nissan pickup truck after leaving the Corrib Pub in West Roxbury.

A short time later, the former Boston police lieutenant was accused of colliding with a backhoe as it performed snow removal, and then ditching his smashed vehicle at the scene.

earley truck I Team: Boston Taxpayers Shell Out Millions For Workers Paid To Stay Home While Under Investigation

John Earley’s truck (WBZ-TV)

At the time, the Boston Police Department (BPD) announced charges against Earley for causing property damage and leaving the scene of an accident. The department also placed the lieutenant on paid administrative leave.

In June 2016, a Boston judge dismissed the case, ruling prosecutors had not proven Earley was behind the wheel of his vehicle that night.

However, BPD’s internal affairs investigation into the veteran cop continued. In July 2017, the department fired Earley.

early I Team: Boston Taxpayers Shell Out Millions For Workers Paid To Stay Home While Under Investigation

John Earley (WBZ-TV)

By that time, he’d collected checks while staying at home for almost 900 days, earning more than $355,000 during his stint on paid administrative leave.

That was the highest amount received by a City of Boston employee over the past three years, according to records the WBZ I-Team obtained.

The I-Team requested the administrative leave payroll data because of the high-profile example of two of Mayor Marty Walsh’s aides, who remained on paid leave for nearly two years as a federal extortion case slogged its way through the legal system.

In March, a federal judge tossed the case. Timothy Sullivan and Kenneth Brissette quietly returned to City Hall. Taxpayers forked over $410,000 for the two city officials to stay at home.

The I-Team wondered, How many other city employees have remained on the sidelines for months while continuing to collect paychecks?

Here are some of the highlights of what the paid leave records show:

  • The average time spent on paid leave is about nine months
  • The average pay on leave is about $72,000
  • Over the past three years, the City of Boston has spent $5 million on administrative leave for employees facing criminal charges or under investigation for misconduct
  • 18 employees received more than $100,000 while on paid leave
  • 19 employees were on leave for more than a year

“The most surprising thing is the amount of money involved. It’s very shocking to see,” said Greg Sullivan, a research director at the Pioneer Institute. “The real victim here is the taxpayer.”

Sullivan, a former state inspector general, said public employees enjoy protections that are unheard of in the private sector, which allows many of the cases to persist.

The lengthiest case the I-Team discovered was Sandro Fonseca, a Boston police officer who was accused of pointing a gun at neighbors while he was drunk in December 2013. Fonseca, an Iraq war veteran, had recently been commended for saving his partner’s life during a shootout with suspected drug dealers in South Boston.

The police officer remained on paid administrative leave for four years, collecting $291,457.

While that might be an extraordinary example, Sullivan said the records indicate a pattern of city leaders not handling cases expeditiously.

“You do something wrong, but you don’t feel the penalty for a long, long time,” Sullivan said. “And while you’re waiting, the checks keep coming.”

Sixty of the 70 employees on paid leave over the past few years are Boston Police Department employees, so the I-Team sat down with Commissioner William Evans to discuss the findings.

commissioner evans I Team: Boston Taxpayers Shell Out Millions For Workers Paid To Stay Home While Under Investigation

Boston Police Commissioner William Evans (WBZ-TV)

Evans said because his officers carry guns, the stakes are too high to allow them to continue patrolling the streets while they are under a cloud of misconduct.

“We have to get it right and sometimes it takes too long,” Evans said. “I’m frustrated by it.”

The commissioner said in many cases, the police department is at the mercy of the legal system. Internal affairs investigations often take a back seat until the court cases are resolved, he said.

Evans also said police officers have due process rights spelled out by collective bargaining agreements and civil service rules. Only when officers are criminally indicted can they be placed on unpaid leave.

“I think we are doing a good job policing our officers and are not afraid to bring them to court,” Evans expressed. “We are not brooming these cases. Do I wish it went quicker? Yeah, I wish there was a better way.”

When asked if the lengthy paid leave stints are just something taxpayers have to accept, Evans responded, “No, I’m not saying accept it because we can always improve and we’ll look to improve.”

hall I Team: Boston Taxpayers Shell Out Millions For Workers Paid To Stay Home While Under Investigation

Boston City Hall (WBZ-TV)

Outside the police department, there are also cases like Fred Ahern, the director the Curley Center in South Boston.

Almost two years ago, 7-year-old Kyzr Willis drowned while attending a city summer camp.

The Suffolk County DA’s Office concluded its probe a year ago, finding no criminal wrongdoing related to the tragic incident. More recently, the City of Boston reached a civil settlement with Willis’ family.

However, a spokeswoman for Mayor Walsh told the I-Team that Ahern remains on leave “pending internal investigation.” Records show his annual salary is $97,495.

The mayor’s aides, Brissette and Sullivan, are not part of a union and there is no policy for administrative leave. As a result, a supervisor made the decision to keep them on paid leave for the duration of the federal case.

Outside City Hall, taxpayers expressed frustration about what the I-Team uncovered.

“This has to be corrected. This is just absolutely unacceptable,” one man fumed.

“I’d like my money back,” a woman added. “I can see my tax dollars going out the window.”

Ryan Kath can be reached at rkath@cbs.com. You can follow him on Twitter or connect on Facebook.

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