Phone tip led to EMT card scam
The investigation began with an anonymous phone tip to the Department of Public Health: The caller claimed an EMT-paramedic for Salem-based Cataldo Atlantic Ambulance Service had received a recertification card without actually attending a mandatory advanced cardiac life-support training class.
State investigators requested documentation for the class, purportedly taught on Feb. 21 at the Burlington Police Department to five students. According to a state investigative report obtained by the Globe, they discovered that the course was never held.
The trail led to a 24-year Lexington firefighter, Mark Culleton, who investigators say falsified training records while working as the department’s in-house training coordinator for six colleagues.
Investigators say he also faked recertification for more than 30 other emergency medical technicians and paramedics working for other ambulance companies through his medical training company, Life Saving Maneuvers of Billerica.
Weeks later the investigation ensnared a second instructor, Leo Nault, who admitted to faking records for about 170 EMTs and falsifying documentation of nine medical refresher courses that were never held.
The scandal prompted the state to suspend the licenses of hundreds of EMTs for up to nine months, and to permanently ban the two instructors from practicing in Massachusetts.
In Lexington, officials are taking the charges that affect seven Fire Department workers “very seriously,’’ Carl Valente, the town manager, said last week. An internal investigation is underway and Valente said that he hopes it will be concluded early this week.
“We are being deliberate with our investigation, but we are moving it along as quickly as we can,’’ Valente said.
The town is investigating the six emergency medical personnel employed by the town, named by the state as Joseph Foley, Aaron Paskalis, John Ritchie, George-Arthur Robinson, Mark Schofield, and Ken Tremblay.
They remained on the job last week, but the state has said it will suspend their emergency care certifications for up to nine months as of July 1.
As of that date the town will cut their pay to reflect their loss of status. The five firefighters losing their EMT certification would face an 8 percent cut in pay, while the firefighter losing his paramedic certification would have his pay cut 12.5 percent, Valente said.
Some of the six were apparently seeking first-responder certificates last week — training that would allow them to continue working as Lexington firefighters without EMT classification, Valente said. That training would be done on the employees’ time at their own expense, he said. Meanwhile, Lexington has sufficient credentialed staff to cover its two ambulances, he said.
State officials permanently yanked Culleton’s paramedic certification and had his license as an EMT instructor revoked. Culleton is on paid administrative leave from the Lexington department pending the outcome of the town inquiry, and is appealing the state actions against him, according to his lawyer.
Attempts to reach Culleton and the other firefighters were unsuccessful.
Documents in the state’s report reveal an instructor who thought he was doing his colleagues a favor by helping them skip mandatory refresher training classes.
He told investigators he was “just trying to help fellow EMTs who were experiencing some hardship’’ and needed recertification cards to keep their jobs. He admitted to fabricating test scores for EMTs who neither took a test nor attended any sort of class, the report said.
Culleton accepted money for the faked cards from some EMTs, while others who were experiencing “financial hardships’’ got them for free, he told DPH Department of Public Health investigators.
Other communities that employed EMTs found to have faked credentials in the state sting are also dealing with the fallout. Belmont had three dispatchers accused of participating in the scheme. Daniel F. Walsh, Thomas L. O’Brien, and Michael P. Tortola will lose their EMT credentials for up to nine months starting July 1, the state said. They are still employed by the town, pending an internal investigation, Belmont Town Administrator Thomas Younger said.
Tortola declined comment. Walsh and O’Brien could not be reached.
The three dispatchers were scheduled to receive a biannual payment of $375 from the town for maintaining EMT certification, but that payment was halted, Younger said. Two of the dispatchers received $375 stipends for their credentials in December, and both have agreed to repay the town, Younger said.
Erica Noonan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.