Payroll nightmare not over for Pinellas County firefighters

Pinellas Suncoast Fire Rescue employees are among the thousands of workers nationwide who continued to feel the fallout Friday from a payroll company's abrupt closure.

The shutdown of MyPayrollHR resulted in a month's worth of pay being taken out of the bank accounts of 43 workers at the fire department. 

"It's been hell on wheels this whole week," said David Martin, the fire department's finance director. "They have no right to reach back in and take the money out."

But that's exactly what happened last week.

It started when MyPayrollHR, a payroll processing company used by 4,000 companies nationwide, including Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue, suddenly shut down.

For years, MyPayrollHR collected money and bank account information and then, using that information, sent direct deposits through a third party, Cachet Financial Services.

But last week, someone submitted a new file to Cachet containing the bank account number of MyPayrollHR - instead of bank account numbers for the employees, which rerouted $35 million back to MyPayrollHR. 

Meanwhile, the file with accurate employee account numbers was also processed, essentially triggering overdraft protection on Cachet's account and paying out the amount owed to employees from Cachet's account twice.

It's unclear who submitted the file containing the wrong account numbers.

"The numbers were manipulated so that the money didn't come to us, but it went into a different account that was under the control of MyPayrollHR," said Wendy Slavkin, Cachet's general counsel.

When Cachet realized the amount was drafted from its account twice, it tried to reverse the transfers, but instead of reversing only the transfer made to MyPayrollHR, the payments to employees were also reversed.

So, last Thursday and Friday, thousands of workers saw their paychecks being deposited and then removed from their accounts.

Slavkin said the company has since told all private banks to put the deposits back into the employees' accounts.

Employees say it's not that simple.

"They have no right to reach back in and take the money out," Martin said. "It's the end of the month. People have mortgage payments, car payments, loan payments, rent."

All but 10 fire department employees have had their funds returned. But one of the firefighters had already been denied a home loan because his account had been flagged during the ordeal.

"For a period of about three days, I was showing a negative balance in my account myself," said Assistant Fire Chief John Mortellite. "I've never had to deal with anything like this before."

Meanwhile, the FBI and Attorney General in New York, where MYPayrollHR was based, have launched investigations.

Investigators say they want to talk to MyPayrollHR's CEO, but he has become unreachable.