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Former fire chief taking the heat

by Mindy Aguon

Guam - Although the report was done nearly one year ago, the Office of Public Accountability released a report today on a former fire chief's payroll during the time he led the Guam Fire Department.  The former chief is accused of authorizing more than $50,000 in improper payments to boost his salary.

The review of GFD's payroll and special payments analysis was conducted one year ago at the request of the Guam Police Department in connection with an investigation of a former Guam Fire Department fire chief. The OPA conducted a review of the former chief's payroll records from January 2003 to December 2005 and found that $53,909 was paid inappropriately. While the report doesn't mention the former chief's name, KUAM News reviewed our archives and found that Assistant Fire Chief Mike Uncangco was head of the fire department during the years that were under review.  Uncangco is now the bureau chief of operations.

According to the OPA's analysis, the former fire chief received 19 payments totaling more than $68,000 during the time he was in charge and took advantage of his official position for personal gain. 17 of the 19 payments were deemed improper while the other two were authorized for unused annual leave.

16 payments lacked supporting documentation, secondary review and authorization and a $4,900 special payment was authorized but auditors found it was for unneeded overtime and night differential pay.

As the department head, the fire chief was prohibited by law from receiving OT and night differential pay and was also not entitled to the 106-hour pay period that uniform firefighters receive. But auditors found that in 2003 Uncangco received two special payments totaling $6,900. The overtime was justified by attending meetings, preparing a budget and reviewing policies and procedures-all things that were deemed by auditors as standard managerial duties. Additionally they questioned why OT was claimed nearly two years after the time of occurrence.

According to the report, Uncangco initiated all of the improper payments to boost his annual salary.

Prior to his appointment as acting fire chief, his salary was $71,007, but in 2003 he brought home in excess of $87,000. The following year he brought home $79,000 and then $97,000 dollars in 2005. In October of last year, Government Corruption Task Force agents executed a search warrant at the Department of Administration's Human Resources Office in Hagatna where they obtained various personnel records.  But it's been more than a year since that search warrant and 11 months since the OPA completed its report and no criminal charges have been handed down related to the findings.

Acting Fire Chief Joey San Nicolas says his hands are tied since the 60 days to take any action has long expired, saying, "But I'm still researching all of that but pending the results of investigation that's stated in this report. I can't move anywhere else."

Meanwhile KUAM News spoke with Uncangco today, who completely disagrees with the audit findings.  The former fire chief believes the police investigation was personally motivated at the request for former chief Dave Peredo. Uncangco said, "Everybody knew I was his number one target.  He said he couldn't initiate payments for himself, they had to be approved by payroll and the Department of Administration."

And that's exactly what the OPA took issue with finding that the payments were processed and disbursed without documentation and authorization. DPA payroll technicians were criticized for processing timesheets and special payment requests without management review and approval which has resulted in errors, manipulation and the risk of abuse and fraud.

The acting fire chief has put a call into the Guam Police Department to determine the status of the investigation.

The Attorney General's Office meanwhile would not comment on the status of the investigation. Spokesperson Carlina Charfauros only said it is under review and they cannot comment further at this time.

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