Timothy Carroll retired at age 33. He claimed he was “totally and permanently” disabled by the trauma of seeing dead bodies while working as a sheriff’s officer in Morris County, New Jersey.
“I suffer from crime scene flashbacks and hallucinations due to all the years I served as a crime scene detective,” stated Carroll in his disability application.
The real shock is Carroll then started a business that cleans up gory crime scenes, a New Jersey Watchdog investigation found. Yet the state continues to pay him a disability pension for life, a sum that could total $1 million or more.
Carroll’s company, Tragic Solutions LLC of Linden, N.J., specializes in removing human residue from “bloody and/or messy” scenes, including “murder, suicide, accidental, natural and decomposing deaths,” according to its website. He formed the business with Thomas Rohling, another former Morris sheriff’s officer who draws a state disability pension.
“I really don’t want to comment on this,” Carroll told NBC 4 New York, New Jersey Watchdog’s partner on the investigation.
“This says there is a problem with the whole pension system, the way the whole system is set up,” said John Sierchio, a trustee of the state Police and Firemen’s Retirement System (PFRS).
PFRS paid out $175 million to 5,067 disabled retirees in 2011—figures expected to rise when 2012 data are released.
Disability applications received by the PFRS have doubled in the past year—and 95 percent of those claims are questionable, according to Sierchio.
The supposedly career-ending incidents have included a fireman who fell out of bed while sleeping, an officer who fell off his chair while sitting down, cops who slipped on wet floors or icy sidewalks, and a patrolman who suffered emotional trauma because his lieutenant yelled at him during roll call.
“It’s people who don’t want to work anymore,” said Sierchio, a Bloomfield police sergeant who has served on the PFRS board since 2002. “The last two officers shot in New Jersey are back to work, but the guy who trips over a curb is sitting on a beach getting two-thirds (of salary) tax-free.”
In New Jersey, it’s relatively easy to fake or exaggerate an injury to get a disability pension. The PFRS has no staff to investigate fraud. Nor do any of the state’s five other retirement funds for public employees.
“No one is watching,” said Sierchio.
The Tragic Solutions case illustrates how weak laws, red tape, and lack of enforcement contribute to the woes of a state pension system that faces a shortfall of nearly $42 billion. New Jersey Watchdog obtained the records through Open Public Records Act requests.
In 1999, Carroll told pension officials he was unable to work because of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression caused by what he witnessed while responding to a car accident and three suicides.
“I started having crime scene flashbacks and hallucinations in
1997,” wrote Carroll. “In September of 1998, I suffered a
hallucination while working at the courthouse. I was removed from
work and placed in a mental hospital.”
Carroll began receiving disability checks after the PFRS board approved his retirement effective May 1999. Five years later—in April 2004—Carroll and Rohling formed Tragic Solutions, according to state business records. For Carroll, the timing would prove crucial.