City of Chicago workers used medical leave for Caribbean vacations, 'Booze Cruise'

Workers for the city of Chicago were caught enjoying a "booze cruise" after telling their bosses they needed time off for medical leave.

The employees worked at the Office of Emergency Management handling 911 calls. The scandal cost them their jobs.

A Caribbean cruise might be the last place you would go for some doctor-ordered bedrest. But that didn't stop several Chicago 911 operators from using sick days under the Family Medical Leave Act to vacation on Carnival cruise ships in the Caribbean.

“You look and you have a cluster of employees who are taking FMLA at exactly the same time this cruise is being conducted. That makes you say, what is this about?” said inspector general Joseph Ferguson.

A former director of OEMC first noticed the unusual vacation patterns and asked the IG to take a look.

“They raised a general red flag as she tried to get a handle of why it is that workers in the OEMC 911 center are so often on leave, and there was a consistency in their scheduling,” Ferguson said.

The IG investigation went beyond just checking vacation dates. The investigators also checked spending patterns, to show that the employees did more on those cruises than stay in bed all day.

It turns out the 911 operators went horseback riding, used jet skis and joined in a "booze cruise." One employee provided a doctor’s note to justify the days off, but the doctor told investigators he had no idea his patient would be going on a cruise.

“Every time somebody puts in without justification, that's a false statement, and especially if they hold a position of sensitivity, we just can’t tolerate that,” Ferguson said.

Three employees were fired in February, and a fourth resigned. The IG says the data-driven analysis which helped catch these abuses will put a dent in similar abuses citywide.