After raking in half a million dollars for being "on call," California's top paid public employee of 2011 -- a prison psychiatrist from Newark -- has been suspended with pay for allegedly falsifying time records, officials said Tuesday.
Dr. Mohammad Safi, 54, was paid more than $803,000 last year as a supervising senior psychiatrist at a Department of State Hospitals facility within Salinas Valley State Prison in Monterey County, records show.
That amount included more than $503,000 for on-call pay -- in Safi's case being available to respond quickly to emergencies.
His suspension was first reported Wednesday by Bloomberg News, which published an extensive analysis of state government pay that ranked California tops in the nation. It showed Safi was paid more than twice as much as any state psychiatrist in the 12 states Bloomberg examined.
Efforts to reach Safi were unsuccessful Tuesday but his lawyer, Edward Caden, called his client "a scapegoat" for a staffing crisis created by the state.
As a manager, Safi was forced to volunteer for many on-call shifts when others refused, his attorney said, because the state failed to build a required housing unit for doctors to stay overnight at the facility in Soledad.
"He was on call for extended periods of time," said Caden, who said Safi often stayed at a motel near the facility.
At one point, Caden said, Safi was paid for either working or being on call around the
He is paid roughly $130 an hour, state payroll records show.
On-call duty is voluntary at Salinas Valley because the facility does not have sleeping quarters for doctors, said both Caden and Kathy Gaither, the state hospitals' chief deputy director.
"They are claiming he worked an extended period of time without authorization," Caden said. But, he added, "every time sheet he (submitted) has been signed by the (hospital department's) executive director."
Gaither confirmed that Safi "is being investigated for his use of time," but would not discuss details because the case remains under investigation. He was placed on leave with pay in July, and the investigation is expected to be "completed soon," she said.
An analysis of 2011 pay records by this newspaper for the 370-bed psychiatric hospital within Salinas Valley State Prison where Safi worked shows his pay far exceeded that of other doctors last year. The five people he supervised were paid an average of $313,348, records show -- about half a million dollars less then their boss.
Records also show that 21 doctors with Safi's title of supervising chief psychiatrist working for the hospitals department at other state prisons in 2011 averaged about $283,000.
Safi remains in good standing with the California Medical Board, where he listed as a surgeon.
State Superior Court records show Safi was sued last year by a collections agency for an unspecified amount. Property records show that a five-bedroom Newark house he bought in 2007 for nearly $1 million is now valued at $730,000.
Caden said Safi's taking of on-call shifts had nothing to do with any financial difficulties he might have faced.
"He was the manager," Caden said. "He had to do it."