PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The Providence Retirement Board voted Wednesday to reinstate the accidental disability pension of retired firefighter John Sauro after an hour-long meeting behind closed doors.
The board voted unanimously – with Councilman John Igliozzi absent – to reinstate the pension, but also voted to “refer the matter of John Sauro to the medical subcommittee based on new information.”
A lawyer representing the board declined to provide further information, citing pending litigation.
Board Chairman Lawrence Mancini, who is also the city’s finance director, said the case is still ongoing and they will review the results from the medical exam at a meeting next month.
Mancini said the board reinstated Sauro’s pension because he was no longer in violation of a city ordinance that can mandate those collecting an accidental disability pension to see a doctor of the city’s choosing to determine if the individual is still injured.
“The 12 members that were present voted unanimously.” Mancini said. “It was a matter of compliance, and with some additional information forthcoming that information has been referred to the medical subcommittee.”
Mancini said Sauro saw a Waltham, Mass. orthopedic specialist on December 23. He declined to provide specifics from the doctor’s report.
In a statement Mayor Jorge Elorza said he was “appalled by Mr. Sauro’s abuse of the public disability system.”
“It is my understanding that today’s decision by the Retirement Board was a procedural step in a matter that remains ongoing,” Elorza said in the statement. “My administration is committed to ensuring the integrity of the retirement and disability process and we are confident that this matter will be resolved in a manner consistent with that commitment.”
Thomas Connors, a member of Sauro’s legal team, said they were pleased with the board’s decision.
“Now we have to see where it goes from here because there is still a lawsuit pending,” Connors said. “Now we have to sit down and decide what to do in the future.”
Sauro filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the city after officials suspended his pension benefits in 2013. The pension board took the action after Sauro refused to see the Massachusetts doctor.
A Superior Court judge refused to reinstate Sauro’s pension immediately, but the lawsuit is still ongoing.
Connors declined to provide results of the exam but said Sauro also saw a doctor of his choosing and the results conflict with the city’s doctor.
“We are looking at competing medical reports between the IME,” Connors said, referring to the independent medical exam ordered by the city. “There was a dispute in the degree of severity between the IME doctor and the one [Sauro] used on his own.”
Mancini said the city is not obligated to pay Sauro back for the time his pension was suspended because he was in violation of a city ordinance at the time.
Sauro was collecting a $3,900 monthly tax-free disability pension for a shoulder injury he says he got on the job in 1998. In 2011, he was seen in Target 12 Undercover video vigorously lifting weights over several days at a local gym.
In the wake of the report, the Providence Retirement Board sent Sauro to a local doctor who decided he was still too hurt to work, but recommended further testing. In 2013 the city tried to send Sauro to an orthopedic surgeon in Massachusetts, but Sauro refused, claiming he was bedridden and his doctors had ordered him not to travel out of state.
According to the lawsuit, the city hired a private investigator and captured video of Sauro running errands. Sauro claimed city officials were targeting him and set him up the day the video was shot because the errands were related to the pension case. Tim White( firstname.lastname@example.org ) is the Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter: @TimWhiteRI