Lisa Hart Went AWOL But She Still Has Her Job

For 7.5 months in two years, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Lt. Lisa Hart failed to show up for work. She apparently got away with it.

The county police department concluded an investigation eight months ago, but fire rescue officials refuse to release the investigative report -- asserting the probe remains open. "The entire IA process is not complete," says fire department spokeswoman Elizabeth Calzadilla-Fiallo. "As you know, there are stages to these

probes." She declined further comment.

However, Banana Republican has read through a draft copy of the report prepared by police Sgt. Tonua Johnson, which contains information confirming much of what I originally reported about Hart, who remains employed as an $89,000-a-year training officer. The draft copy was obtained by a confidential source.

The 46-year-old firefighter's job was to monitor 38 rookies. She was assigned to administer exams testing their progress during a one-year probationary period. While Hart burned through 865 hours of

taxpayer-funded vacation time and sick leave, she wasn't around to keep

track of her trainees. Worse, she allegedly claimed to have worked hours when she wasn't on duty.

On July 10, 2009, the internal affairs probe was completed and the

findings were submitted to Miami-Dade Fire Chief Herminio Lorenzo.

Until he signs off on the findings, the fire department doesn't have to release the report, Calzadilla-Fiallo says. The draft I read included sworn statements from Hart's recruits.

Firefighter Pedro Batista said Hart never visited him or evaluated his performance during his probationary period. Brian Li, who was also under Hart's supervision, echoed Batista's comments. Hart trainee Joaquin Amador said he never met her, and that she never responded to the lone email he sent her notifying her about his fire station assignment.

Two other rookies said Hart only visited them once during their probationary period. Nelson Barbosa told investigators "he became concerned that he had not been evaluated" by Hart during the first eight months of his probation.

Retired captain Jerome Byrd Sr., who directly supervised Hart, told investigators that "he became alarmed at Lt. Hart's absenteeism after some of her probationary firefighters informed other probationary office staff members that they had not been evaluated and that they had not seen Lt. Hart for several months."

Byrd added that "he obtained information that Lt. Hart was employed by the Broward County Fire Academy, and that she was working there during her on-duty hours" for Miami-Dade Fire Rescue. (An assistant director to the McFatter Technical Center, where the Broward academy is located, told detectives that Hart has not worked there since 2007).

Apparently, Hart continued to miss work even after I reported on her no-shows. Byrd's successor, Capt. Natosha Gonzales, visited the academy and Hart's residence in Broward on January 9, 2009 after the lieutenant had failed to show up to work for two consecutive days. Gonzales "observed Lt. Hart's vehicle parked in front of the home but she did not receive a response when she knocked on the door."

When she was finally interviewed by detectives, Hart asserted the training division chief allowed her to work a flexible schedule. She denied working at the Broward fire academy and said Byrd had it in for her. She claimed that between November 2007 and January 2008, "she was experiencing personal issues and this coupled with Capt. Byrd's insensitivity by unfairly citing her for violating his call-in procedure was overwhelming."

She insisted that she visited several fire stations to evaluate her rookies but that "she neglected to log in her time on the stations' log books documenting her presence." But Hart acknowledged she "was behind in evaluating her employees...and her inability to prioritize her tasks impacted her ability to peform her duties."

The I.A. sleuths concluded that Hart violated the fire department's general rules of conduct and responsibility and that she had failedto monitor and evaluate her probationary firefighters. Until the investigation is closed, Calzadilla-Fiallo declined to comment on possible disciplinary action against Hart.

Firing her would be a start. Hart is lucky she isn't being arrested and charged with grand theft.

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Francisco Alvarado was born in Nicaragua and grew up in Miami, giving him unique insight into the Magic City and all its dark corners. An investigative reporter with a knack for uncovering corruption, Alvarado made his bones as a staff writer at Miami New Times and remains in dogged pursuit of the next juicy story.