Former RTA manager says his boss, Joe Calabrese, knew three years ago about then-board president’s unpaid health-care premiums

August 30, 2018 GMT

Former RTA manager says his boss, Joe Calabrese, knew three years ago about then-board president’s unpaid health-care premiums

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Joe Calabrese, the general manager of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority, was told three years ago that the RTA board’s then-president, George Dixon, was accessing the agency’s health insurance though Dixon had stopped paying premiums, according to RTA’s former head of human resources.

Bruce Hampton, who retired in July from his RTA job, told cleveland.com on Thursday that Calabrese was made aware of Dixon’s missed payments in 2015 by a deputy general manager in RTA’s finance department. He said that he personally told Calabrese about a continued lack of payments from Dixon in 2016.


Calabrese denied the allegation.

“I was not informed of the situation by Mr. Hampton,” Calabrese said in a statement Friday. “I was told by our new deputy general manager of finance and administration on Feb. 21, 2018, that George Dixon had significant outstanding debt related to his health insurance premiums. I immediately contacted RTA’s internal audit and legal departments.”

An RTA investigation determined that Calabrese was not made aware of Dixon’s unpaid premiums until February 2018.

The investigation showed that between 2004 and February 2018, Dixon failed to pay $140,000 in insurance premiums, including interest, while accessing health-care services totaling about $970,000. RTA is self-insured, meaning the cost of health-care services is paid by RTA’s general fund.

The investigation, which triggered Dixon’s resignation, has been referred to the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office.

Hampton, a 28-year-employee of RTA, was suspended in May for what RTA officials said was his role in enabling Dixon to access the RTA’s health-care insurance after failing to make payments. Hampton retired in July and received a $125,000 severance that includes payments for unused vacation and sick time.

Hampton recalled Friday that Calabrese had little reaction in 2016, when informed that Dixon was still not paying his health-care premiums.

“He was not shocked or surprised,” Hampton said.  “He said, ‘send him a letter about what he owes.’”

Hampton said his department sent several letters to Dixon and ultimately cancelled Dixon’s insurance around November 2017 for failing to make payments. Hampton said that Dixon complained to RTA, though not directly to him, that he needed the insurance for a few months longer because he was close to being eligible for Medicare.


“In January 2018, after I returned from a health-related absence, Calabrese directed me to put Dixon back on the health-care plan,” Hampton said.  “His exact words were, ‘He’s been on all this time, two more months won’t make a difference.’”

Hampton said that he made similar statements during recorded interviews with RTA investigators and that would say the same thing under oath. (Cleveland.com requested earlier this week to review the recorded interviews with Hampton and Calabrese.)

RTA has not publicly explained how the agency believes Hampton helped Dixon access health-care services while not paying insurance premiums.

Hampton said he had an unblemished work record and that RTA officials lack any evidence that he is responsible for what Dixon is accused of doing.

“I always followed protocols,” he said, noting that RTA’s accounting department for years tracked insurance premium payments, not his department.

In a letter informing Hampton of his suspension, RTA said Hampton’s “actions with respect to the administration of Mr. Dixon’s health insurance premiums and coverage are not consistent” with RTA’s values of  “fiscal, responsibility, teamwork and accountability.”

Hampton said that before the Dixon investigation started, he had informal discussions with colleagues about retiring at the end of the 2018. He said that after he was suspended, RTA approached him with a settlement that included six months of salary, enough to get him to his target date. He said the settlement is evidence that he is not responsible for RTA’s problems with Dixon.

“RTA traditionally does not settle with people they feel did something wrong,” he said.