A Long Island Rail Road train car cleaner repeatedly responded to emergency calls as a North Babylon volunteer firefighter while on the LIRR’s time, according to a report from the MTA’s internal watchdog.
The employee also was once caught sleeping on the job by investigators with the Office of Metropolitan Transportation Authority Inspector General Carolyn Pokorny. That now-former employee denies the allegations.
Although the report from Pokorny’s office does not identify the employee, Michael Elco, the captain of Station 2 of North Babylon Volunteer Fire Company, acknowledged being the target of the investigation, and recently resigning from his position as a car appearance maintainer for the LIRR — a job he has held since 2017.
According to the report, Elco never received the "dual employment authorization" that was required from the railroad to continue his involvement in the volunteer fire company, which he joined in 2005.
And so Elco committed "time and attendance abuse" when, on eight different occasions, he "responded to Fire Department calls during hours he claimed to be at work for the LIRR," the report said. Six other times, Elco went on fire calls while taking paid sick days or while taking time off under the Family Medical Leave Act, the report said.
Reached by phone, Elco said he only responded to fire calls on his own time, included during authorized lunch breaks in his LIRR work day.
"At that time, I’m entitled to do whatever I want. And if I decided to go on fire calls, that’s what I decided to do," Elco said. "They’re coming after me for helping my community out. I think the MTA should be embarrassed."
MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said the railroad is "aggressively seeking to recoup payment" from its former employee for any missed work hours, and also has taken steps to improve its time and attendance procedures, including through "spot inspections" of employees at work locations.
"The LIRR has zero tolerance for any employee that takes advantage of hardworking taxpayers to cheat the system," Donovan said.
In the report, investigators also recalled visiting the Babylon rail yard where Elco was supposed to be working on Oct. 24, only to find him "asleep in the driver’s seat of his personal vehicle." Elco said Monday that he was "actually praying."
According to the report, Elco retired from the LIRR amid the investigation. Elco said he resigned from the LIRR because he found a better job in the private sector.
William Wexler, an attorney representing the fire company, said he didn’t know much about the case or about Elco, but said the company did respond to a subpoena from the MTA Inspector General’s Office regarding its Station 2 captain.