Florida Jail Supervisors Investigated in Fraudulent Overtime Scheme
An investigation at Florida’s West Palm Beach County Jail has revealed that top-ranked officials used their positions to obtain fraudulent overtime payments. What started as an internal investigation into a deputy’s complaint has morphed into a criminal investigation that has resulted in suspensions, an arrest and the specter of additional criminal charges.
The scheme may have been going on for several years, involving numerous jail employees. In just the last year, it is estimated the cost to the County was $350,000. “Fifteen minutes into it, I realized this is criminal,” said internal affairs Capt. Robert Van Reeth.
The matter was turned over to financial crimes detectives. The reason for relinquishing control of the investigation to an outside agency was because statements made during internal affairs investigations may not be admissible in court.
As of May 2008, Lt. Sandra Nealy, Lt. George Behar, Lt. Darrin McCray, Sgt. Edy Velasquez, Sgt. Faulton Kemph, Sgt. John McCaffrey and Sgt. Kathy Dent had been placed on administrative leave. They are suspected of participating in an organized scheme to defraud, a second-degree felony, and official misconduct, a third-degree felony.
Nealy was charged with organized scheme to defraud on May 23; she was released on $25,000 bond and faces up to life in prison because the crime involved the use of other people’s personal information. The other six suspended supervisors were expected to face similar charges, while two of their superior officers were administratively disciplined.
The scheme involved jail supervisors snatching up lucrative overtime shifts to watch prisoners at hospitals. They would sign up for the positions before deputies (who normally take such shifts because their pay scales are lower) had the opportunity to do so, or they grabbed the overtime shifts to allow friends to work them. Supervisors often earn twice the salary of deputies. The pay for the overtime hospital shifts was at a rate of time-and-a-half.
The seven supervisors implicated in the scheme have each worked over 10 years for the sheriff’s office, earning from $70,000 to $103,000 in annual salary. The overtime pay was very lucrative. The highest paid supervisor, Nealy, took in more than $56,000 in overtime in fiscal year 2006-07. The lowest overtime earner in the group pocketed an extra $19,000 that year.
Not surprisingly, all but one of the supervisors under investigation (Dent) had prior disciplinary records. Behar’s questionable ethics became apparent when he fabricated a witness subpoena while in the corrections academy, which earned him a five-day suspension. McCray had also received a five-day suspension – for striking and repeatedly slapping a prisoner who was a double amputee.
All of the accused supervisors except Velasquez reportedly had records of bankruptcy, foreclosure or other money-related problems.
The fraudulent overtime scheme seemed to be well known among jail employees; authorities said that up to 100 other guards could face discipline ranging from reprimands to suspensions.
Source: Palm Beach Post
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