Former Essex County Sheriff Accused of Widespread Abuse of Sick Time

Former Essex County Sheriff Frank G. Cousins encouraged and arranged for 82 members of his staff to request sick time when they were perfectly healthy, a scathing new report from the state Inspector General Glenn A. Cunha alleges.

The sick, holiday and vacation time off, authorized between 2009 and 2016, cost taxpayers nearly $1.1 million. Dozens of employees qualified for their pensions only through the improper accrual of sick time, the report said.

“The Office of Inspector General found a pattern in which dozens of healthy employees stopped reporting for work at the Essex County Sheriff’s Department but remained on the ECSD’s payroll using significant amounts of leave, including sick leave, prior to retiring,” the report said. “Some employees even worked paid details and other jobs while out on sick leave from ESCD. Others became eligible for retirement only by using sick leave after they stopped reporting to work. This pattern was well established over several years.”

Nine retirees used 100 percent of their sick leave—6,792 total hours—costing $217,125.

Cunha’s office said the excessive sick time was attributed to a “Retirement Incentive Program” that never existed. During his tenure, Cousins explained the scheme as a way to both reward “favored members of his staff” and prevent “problem” employees from pursing legal grievances.

In his report, Cunha did not criminally implicate Cousins, who served from 1996 until his term expired in January 2017. Instead, he offered recommendations for the administration that is now overseen by Kevin F. Coppinger.

Chief among the recommendations is an overhaul of the employee handbook, which outlines a two-year cap on vacation carryover time, “in order to limit the state’s future liability.”

The Essex County Sheriff’s Office employs approximately 600 across its facilities, including the Middleton House of Corrections and a pre-release and re-entry center in Lawrence.