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Lackawanna police chief sues city, former Council president over probe into payments

Police Chief James L. Michel Jr. has named the City of Lackawanna and former City Council President Henry R. Pirowski Jr. in two lawsuits stemming from an investigation into sick pay and overtime compensation between 2011 and 2013.

The suit against Lackawanna is for “disciplinary action” taken against Michel, alleging that the city acted without a hearing to reduce his base pay and eliminate past and future benefits including vacation days, longevity pay, and gas and car expense for a city-issued vehicle.

“These payments made to Chief Michel were not only the terms he was hired under, but were subsequently reapproved by the previous administration,” said Howard B. Cohen, attorney for Michel. “Mr. Pirowski to further his personal agenda wanted the city to go back on their agreement and change history.”

Michel’s defamation suit against Pirowski alleges that the former Council president falsely accused the police chief of illegally accepting payments ranging from $36,000 to $45,000.

Lackawanna lawmakers hired outside counsel Barclay Damon to determine whether it could retrieve the money and incurred more than $65,000 in legal fees.

Barclay Damon attorneys only recently were paid after two mayoral vetoes attempting to block payment.

In voting to override the vetoes, lawmakers decided to close the investigation.

Yet they remain determined to get the city’s money back, according to First Ward Councilman Abdulsalam K. Noman.

“The City Council will continue in-house to pursue the probe,” Noman said Monday. “We stopped the investigation because it became too costly, but we’re not going to forget about the money.”

Michel, a 35-year veteran of the force, rose through the ranks from patrol officer to police chief in 2009. His current salary is $80,000.

Noman mentioned an avenue under consideration by Council.

“We may be able to use his sick days to recoup the lost money,” Noman said.