Several Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies have been entangled in fraud allegations in the last year, a spike that the department's watchdog says may be linked to overtime cuts pushing cash-strapped deputies to commit crimes.
One deputy torched his own car for an insurance payout, another fabricated a burglary and a third enlisted a fellow cop to help him drive his car to Mexico, where he abandoned it and later claimed it was stolen. Two other deputies are facing federal charges in an alleged mortgage fraud scheme, according to the report provided to The Times Monday by the Office of Independent Review.
Financial crimes committed by deputies in past years consisted mainly of petty theft and other minor infractions, but recently the allegations have become more serious and frequent, said Michael Gennaco, who heads up the watchdog agency.
Gennaco said that although deputies receive relatively good pay and benefits, it was reasonable to link the crimes to overtime cuts because many had become accustomed to a standard of living that's not possible without the extra income. Losing that, he said, may have pushed some deputies to pad their salaries illegally.
In one instance, a deputy's car was found burning in a field near his home. He told investigators it must have been stolen, then filed a claim with his insurance company, according to the report. But an expert from his insurance company concluded that the car couldn't have been driven into the field where it was torched without the deputy's enhanced-security car key.
After cellphone records placed the deputy in the field, contradicting his alibi, he was charged with arson, insurance fraud and several other felonies, and eventually received a six-month jail sentence.
According to the report, the deputy had been facing credit card debt and a "substantial mortgage." He resigned in lieu of termination.
"Back in the good old days, if you wanted to increase your salary by 15 to 20% by working more, you could," Gennaco said. "Suddenly, the faucet gets turned off."
In another case, a deputy's 2005 Cadillac CTS was found in Mexico days after he reported it stolen. His story raised suspicions after an insurance adjustor discovered that the deputy had received an estimate for the damages he claimed resulted from the theft three months before the supposed theft occurred. Investigators then discovered cellphone records showing the deputy heading toward Mexico the night he alleged it was stolen, according to the report. The calls showed a similar route for a fellow law enforcement official, who apparently drove the deputy back after he abandoned his car.
The deputy, Eugene Peter Boese, was charged with several felonies but eventually pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge, according to the report.
Boese's false report, however, came in March 2009, well before the most significant overtime cuts cited in the report. Boese, who has been served with a termination notice, could not be reached for comment.
In another case, two deputies are facing federal charges in an alleged out-of-state mortgage fraud scheme. If convicted, one faces up to 45 years in prison and the other up to 105 years, Gennaco said.
In a fourth incident presented in the report, a rookie deputy got in touch with a friend who worked at another law enforcement agency and told him his house had been burglarized the day before. He said he didn't need a unit sent out because he'd already cleaned up the crime scene, but did want a police report with a listing of the "stolen" items to file an insurance claim.
Prompted by the deputy's odd behavior, that agency launched an investigation. The deputy resigned and eventually pleaded no contest to filing a false police report, according to the sheriff's oversight agency.
The Sheriff's Department, citing personnel constraints, refused to release the names of the deputies in any of the cases — even though the criminal cases are public record.
Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore called the link between overtime cuts and more serious financial crimes by deputies anecdotal, but said "an argument can be made."
He called the report "an example of how the department is proactively trying to refocus deputies to live within their means."
Sheriff's deputies busted for insurance fraud
Monday, July 18, 2011
by Miriam Hernandez
LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- We are learning about three Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputies convicted of insurance fraud. The men did time at the Twin Towers jail.
One deputy actually worked in the jail. All three of them served out their sentences there. According to investigators, it's an indicator of a disturbing spike.
Arrested, convicted and jailed for insurance fraud: In three separate incidents, Los Angeles County deputies were fired after faking reports that their new personal cars had been stolen.
"It looked like deputies are in over their heads and are trying to find a way to dispose of these extra amenities," said Mike Gennaco, chief attorney of the Office of Independent Review.
And other cases are in the pipeline according to the Office of Independent Review, which monitors law enforcement.
"We have never have had more than one a year before this," said Gennaco.
The L.A. County Sheriff's Department is already calling for more training, reaching out to all deputies hit hard in this economy.
"Live within your means, spend what you have," said department spokesman Steve Whitmore. "Don't spend what you want, but spend what you have."
The report cites one case where a seven-year veteran had three vehicles, a substantial mortgage and three credit cards with balances of $1,000 each. His car was found torched.
In another case, investigators determined from cellphone records that a deputy drove his own car to Mexico and dumped it. It was not stolen, as he had reported.
The incidents follow deep cuts in overtime: $58 million. In previous years deputies had healthy salaries.
"You could be making 70-, $80,000 a year," said Whitmore. "Now with overtime, that could jump up to 120 or to 130, sometimes even up to 150, but all of that is all gone now."
None of the deputies charged cited loss of overtime as a reason, but the Office of Independent Review says there's evidence it was a factor and has flagged it.
"We're just sorry that careers have been lost and people have now convictions as a result of crossing that line," said Gennaco.
The Office of Independent Review wants the public to know that these incidents are still rare in a force that has 16,000 deputies.