Three New York City prison guards, including two fiancés, were arrested for pretending more than a year of sick leave and collecting their taxpayer-funded salaries.
All three defendants work at Rikers Island, the troubled and chronically understaffed prison on Manhattan’s East River.
Steven Cange, 49, Monica Coaxum, 36, and Eduardo Trinidad, 42 were charged with federal program fraud for abusing the paid sick leave policy system. The trio forged hundreds of doctor’s notes for injuries to various body parts, including their shoulders, elbows, wrists, fingers, hips, knees and ankles.
United States attorney Breon Peace said of the case: “Amid an ongoing personnel crisis on Rikers Island, the defendants defrauded New Yorkers by fraudulently taking their full pay while taking more than a year of sick leave.
“These guards have given up their oath to protect prisoners and have endangered the safety of their fellow guards.”
Cange, who has been a corrections officer at the DOC since late 2014, has reportedly been on sick leave since March 2021, meanwhile receiving a full salary of approximately $160,000.
Similarly, Trinidad collected more than $140,000 in salary while reporting multiple injuries.
Monica Coaxum, who is engaged to Trinidad, collected her $80,000 salary while allegedly pretending multiple injuries and illnesses were from March 2021 to May 2022.
Coaxum and Trinidad, who met at work in 2020, were planning their wedding during their free time, according to their website for their wedding.
New York’s Rikers Island Prison in Manhattan’s East River, where three guards were arrested for defrauding the system by calling in sick for over a year each while continuing to collect their paychecks
Each officer filed dozens of fraudulent doctor’s notes with the New York Department of Corrections while on extended paid leave and leading a perfectly healthy and active lifestyle
All three officers are charged with falsifying dozens of medical documents claiming they were at medical appointments that discredited suppliers with law officials investigating the violations.
Cange claimed he suffered from a number of ailments, including dizziness and negative side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine. He reportedly submitted more than 100 fraudulent medical notes to DOC showing that he was with physical therapy or other medical providers.
Law enforcement officers saw Cange engage in normal activities without any difficulty.
Coaxum claimed she injured her knee, shoulder, wrist and elbow and Trinidad said the same about his shoulder, elbow, wrist, fingers, hip, knee and ankle.
Both underwent surgery on various injuries and also claimed they were unable to return to work due to “trauma” from the physical damage.
In connection with the investigation, officers looked at the suspects’ phone records and iCloud and found a conversation on Coaxum’s device in which she spoke candidly about defrauding her employer.
“Monica, you live your best life, but your job is a scam,” one group chat participant wrote, according to a criminal charge against her.
‘Yeah still getting paid at home, unlimited sick baby. Become like me! Living my best life,’ Coaxum replied.
She then sent a photo of herself and her fiancé at a party.
The couple filed hundreds of fraudulent doctor’s notes and repeatedly violated the DOC requirement to stay home outside the hours of 1:00 PM to 5:00 PM.
Ultimately, both Coaxum and Trinidad were told their employment would be terminated if they did not return to work.
The New York City prison is notoriously understaffed and has faced a number of significant problems, including inmate deaths and suicide attempts
Under each guard’s union contract, the DOC officer’s unlimited paid sick leave covers “the entire period of incapacity for work due to illness, injury, or mental or physical abnormality, whether or not associated with the service.”
However, if an officer must be on medical leave for more than two days in a row, the person must report to the Department of Corrections’ Health Management Department.
In addition, if an employee has been on sick leave for more than eight days in the calendar year, the officer may not leave home outside the hours of 1:00 PM to 5:00 PM to prevent abuse of the system.
If a medical appointment falls outside the hours of 1:00 PM to 5:00 PM, an officer must “log out” from their home before leaving and after returning home by calling the DOC. He or she must also submit documentation to the DOC within 48 hours of the appointment to confirm its legitimacy.
The charges against Coaxum and Trinidad read: “These corrections officers committed fraud by abusing the DOC’s sick leave policy to avoid work, by falsely claiming they were too injured or ill to work, by making false statements to submit to the DOC about how they are taking their time and, in some cases, submitting false documentation to the DOC regarding medical appointments they did not attend.’
If convicted, each officer faces a maximum of 10 years in prison.
Rikers Island has long been the host of a series of increasingly significant problems, including prisoner deaths and suicide attempts, as well as staff shortages to which the actions of these three officers contributed.
In August of this year, Michael Nieves became the 13th inmate to die in prison in a… suspected suicide.
A DOC captain and two guards were suspended for allegedly watching Nieves bleed in front of them after he cut his throat with a razor.
Former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has agreed to completely close the prison complex by 2026 and open four new prisons at a total cost of $8.7 billion. The plan was then pushed back to 2027, but current Mayor Eric Adams has said he doubts the prison can close by then.
“I need the people who are idealistic to deal with the realism of this… If you still have a larger number of people who fit in the city jails, what do we do with those who are shooting, robbery, beatings, rapes and other crimes? What do we do with it,’ Adams said in Sept.
As of August 2022, more than 5,700 criminals were housed in Rikers.