Officer cleared in NOPD payroll probe

From staff reports

Copyright 2006 The Times-Picayune Publishing Company

The administrative assistant of a veteran police commander was cleared of allegations of payroll fraud and neglect of duty, the New Orleans Police Department confirmed Thursday, the same day the commander filed a lawsuit against city officials alleging "personal and political" motives on behalf of the mayor and Police Superintendent Warren Riley.

The commander is still the subject of an internal investigation into the charges.

Harry Mendoza, 52, a 30-year police veteran and Sgt. Joseph Valiente, his administrative assistant were named late last month as subjects of an administrative investigation. Mendoza was removed from command of the department's Traffic Division.

Investigators since learned that Valiente was off duty on the days that a Public Integrity Bureau stake-out watched him playing tennis with Mendoza. He has since returned to duty in the Traffic Division, said Lt. David Benelli, president of the Police Association of New Orleans.

NOPD Public Information officer Detective David Adams confirmed that Valiente had been cleared.

The lawsuit filed in Civil District Court by Mendoza's attorney, Edward F. Kohnke IV, alleges that the investigation was politically motivated based on " rumors" that Mendoza was a candidate for the job of police superintendent should Mitch Landrieu, a friend of the officer's, be elected mayor.

The lawsuit also charges that, as a former captain himself, Riley "knew full well" that captains don't work on a time sheet, but instead respond as needed on a 24-hour basis, without benefit of overtime.

"The work performed by (Mendoza) following Hurricane Katrina is only the latest example of the fact that (his) job requires him to be on 24-hour call and to work well outside what would be considered a 'normal' 9 to 5 job with an eight-hour day," according to the lawsuit.

The superintendent should be held "personally liable" for the embarrassment, distress and harm "to the personal and professional reputation of Captain Mendoza," according to the lawsuit.

Police officials didn't respond to the lawsuit, which was filed Thursday afternoon. 
May 12, 2006

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