Three Rikers Island correction officers have been charged with what federal prosecutors call an “elaborate scheme” to steal taxpayer dollars by abusing their unlimited sick leave policy.
Steven Cange, Monica Coaxum and Eduardo Trinidad are accused of pretending to be sick for more than a year while collecting paychecks as city correction officers. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, two of the officers submitted dozens of fake medical records, and the third claimed to be too injured to work. Then, officials said, the officers used their time off to travel, party and make home renovations.
Rikers has been facing a dire staffing shortage, which many say has contributed to dangerous and inhumane conditions in the jail complex — both for those who are incarcerated and for staff. Since the start of the year, 18 people have died while inside New York City jails or just after their release.
“As alleged, in the midst of an ongoing staffing crisis at Rikers Island, the defendants defrauded New Yorkers by fraudulently obtaining their full salaries while taking over a year of sick leave,” U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said in a press release. “These correction officers abandoned their oath to protect inmates and put the safety of their fellow correction officers at risk.”
In a statement texted to Gothamist, the Correction Officers' Benevolent Association called the allegations a "gross disservice” to the officers’ co-workers and said it does not encourage its members to call out sick unnecessarily.
“These are obviously extremely serious allegations and if true do not represent the 99% of our officers who are working excessive amounts of overtime without meals to keep our city safe every day,” COBA President Benny Boscio said.
Cange allegedly submitted more than 100 phony doctors' notes, in which he claimed to be suffering from vertigo and side effects of the coronavirus vaccine. But records subpoenaed from the medical offices listed on his notes showed that he hadn’t come for appointments during those times, according to investigators. Officials said they also observed Cange “engaging in normal life activities with no apparent difficulty.” He has earned more than $160,000 since taking sick leave in March 2021.
Coaxum is accused of turning in about 50 fraudulent medical notes for appointments that she never went to. While claiming to be home injured, officials said, she was traveling and partying. The DOJ said she also has admitted to law enforcement that she forged some medical records. She has earned more than $80,000 while out sick.
Coaxum’s fiancé, Trinidad, has been paid more than $140,000 while claiming that he was too sick to work. According to the DOJ, he went to multiple medical appointments with the Department of Correction wearing a sling, cane or boot. But officials said they observed him without that medical gear while he renovated his home, went bowling and traveled out of the country.
Jail officials condemned the allegations.
“These correction officers in no way are a reflection of the hardworking women and men who represent New York’s boldest,” DOC Commissioner Louis A. Molina said in a statement. “Their conduct is unacceptable and a violation of their oath and duty to this city and our agency."
If convicted, the officers could each spend up to 10 years in prison.