DSNY sanitation workers

SANITATION DUMP?: Three-dozen Sanitation Department employees have been suspended without pay for allegedly using fake vaccination cards to avoid having to be inoculated against the coronavirus. Besides risking their jobs, those workers could face criminal charges as part of an investigation that the New York Post reported could involve up to 150 employees, many of them connected to two department garages in Staten Island.

Thirty-six members of the city Sanitation Department have been suspended in connection with an internal investigation into allegations they used fake coronavirus-vaccination cards to evade Mayor de Blasio's Oct. 20 mandate, according to Uniformed Sanitationmen's Association President Harry Nespoli.

"The investigation is still ongoing, and those that have been suspended will face a departmental trial," he said during a Nov. 15 interview. While "not condoning" any illegal actions by members, he said his union would provide the suspended employees with legal counsel.

Mr. Nespoli's members could have more to worry about than losing their jobs.

Another Agency Involved

During his daily briefing the following day, Mayor de Blasio said employees of another agency—which he wouldn't identify—were also under investigation.

"We believe it's a few dozen people out of a workforce of almost 400,000," he said. "Anyone who is involved will be held accountable. Some employees have been suspended without pay already."

Noting that he previously warned workers against using fraudulent means to pass themselves off as vaccinated, the Mayor added, "Creating a false vaccination card is a major crime. It comes with jail time as a potential penalty...So any employee who violated the law and attempted to circumvent the rules that we put forward to keep people safe, they are going to pay a very harsh price."   

The FBI in a March 30 online posting had warned, "By misrepresenting yourself as vaccinated when entering schools, mass transit, workplaces, gyms, or places of worship, you put yourself and others around you at risk of contracting COVID-19. Additionally, the unauthorized use of an official government agency's seal (such as HHS or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)) is a crime and may be punishable under Title 18 United States Code, Section 1017, and other applicable laws."

Up to 150 SanWorkers?

Last month the State Police and State Department of Health announced the arrest of  an upstate man, Devin R. Kemp, for allegedly presenting his private-sector employer with a falsified vaccination record. He was charged with possession of a forged instrument 2nd degree, a Class "D" felony.

The New York Post, which first reported the Sanitation probe, indicated it could involve as many as 150 workers primarily linked to two agency garages in Staten Island: on Richmond Ave. not far from the Staten Island Mall, and on Arthur Kill Rd.

"These are very concerning allegations, and we take them very seriously," Sanitation Department Press Secretary Vincent Gragnani, told the New York Times. "Getting vaccinated is important to public health, and we do not tolerate anyone faking something that is a requirement of city employment."

The agency told reporters it was "actively investigating this situation" along with the Department of Investigation. DOI spokeswoman Diane Struzzi said it was "aware of allegations involvingthe issuance of bogus vaccination cards and declines further comment.

EMS the Other Agency?

While The Post reported that the Emergency Medical Service was also in the "cross-hairs" of a similar probe, Fire Department Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Frank Dwyer said the agency was unaware of a probe involving its employees

The FDNY late last month issued a memo cautioning that falsifying a COVID vaccine record to meet the workplace requirement could bring criminal prosecution.

Around that time, state Department of Consumer Protection officials warned that trafficking in, or presenting fake vaccination cards, could mean jail time.

"With more companies requiring proof of vaccination from employees and customers, New Yorkers should be aware that scammers are hard at work producing fake vaccine cards," Secretary of State Rossana Rosado said in a statement.

State Bill Not Yet Signed

In June, both the State Assembly and State Senate passed legislation making the falsification of vaccine records a crime. According to the official legislative tracker, it has not been delivered to the Governor's desk for final approval.

"We're using vaccine cards and passports to make everything safer from baseball to Broadway, but the system relies on individuals being truthful about their vaccination status in order to keep everyone safe," said State Senator Anna M. Kaplan, one of the bill's prime sponsors. "We're already seeing anti-vaxxers spreading tips online for how to create fake cards in order to get around the vaccinations mandates, and we need to put a stop to this effort to defraud the public so that our recovery from the pandemic can keep moving forward."

NPR that month reported that a "vendor on Amazon was discovered selling a pack of blank COVID-19 vaccination cards this week" with a 10-pack going for $12.99, noting that both the vaccine and legitimate vaccination cards were free.

A month earlier, the Federal Trade Commission warned that the CDC vaccination cards "were never designed to prove your vaccination status and they may not be enough."

'Scammers Can Cash In'

Its advisory noted, "Some states, companies, colleges, and other organizations are creating their own verification products and services, including apps and digital passports or certificates. Some connect to state immunization databases while others rely on individual self-report. The patchwork approach gives scammers an opportunity to cash in on the confusion."

Mr. Nespoli lamented that "this whole thing could have been avoided if we had gone on with continuing to test or get the vaccine program, where everything was monitored and the city's COVID numbers were coming down. But then the Mayor imposed the mandate" in early October, then early this month reached agreement with 23 unions—including the USA—setting leave policies for employees who chose not to be vaccinated.

"The whole country is divided over this," said the union leader, who is also the chairman of the Municipal Labor Committee. "I just want people to remember what these essential workers did. They came to work when nobody else did, got sick, brought it home to their families and then came back to work. Seven people died."


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(3) comments

krell1349

Very foolish to do this.

wpeakes

This was a very, very ill-advised thing to do.

Navajocode

It’s not surprising its a Staten Island sanitation garage. Those members who choose to risk their pensions and their careers and get the unions legal support should not be city employees in the 1st place

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