10/01/2007

Some Md. officers in double-dipping case to resign

At least 7 of 14 Montgomery County police will avoid felony charges, attorneys say

By Ernesto Londoño
The Washington Post

MONTGOMERY CO., Md. — Half of the 14 Montgomery County police officers who were suspended for allegedly working off-duty security jobs that overlapped with their county shifts have agreed to resign and pay restitution to the county, defense attorneys said.

Five of the officers have agreed to plead guilty to misconduct in office, a misdemeanor, and the two others secured deals avoiding criminal charges, the attorneys said. The status of the other cases could not be determined because prosecutors and some defense lawyers declined to comment.

But defense lawyers familiar with the cases said some of the remaining officers are expected to be indicted on felony theft charges and some could face jail time. The main factor prosecutors have taken into account in making plea offers is the sum of money the officers appeared to have earned from part-time work while on duty, the lawyers said. In Maryland, theft over $500 is a felony.

The resolution of the cases is expected to end the law enforcement careers of most of the officers, attorneys said. It is unclear whether officers convicted of crimes would lose their pension.

The five plea agreements are expected to be filed in the coming days in circuit court, and indictments could be handed down as early as Thursday, the attorneys said.

Attorney Paul Kemp said his client, Kyle Cochran, who was based in the Silver Spring district station, had agreed to plead guilty to misconduct in office and repay the county about $7,100.

"These are all good family guys, good officers," Kemp said. "It's a shame."

Another attorney, Thomas L. Heeney, said he expects his client, James Redd, to be indicted on felony theft charges. Heeney said prosecutors contend that Redd, also of the Silver Spring station, unlawfully earned $24,000 over six years from the real estate company where he and the other officers worked.

Heeney said his client is innocent, adding that the overlap was created by poor payroll record-keeping at the police department and at Grady Management, the Silver Spring company that employed the officers.

The two payroll systems are "based upon records that make the overlap conclusion as unreliable as my golf handicap," he said. "All they're doing is comparing one set of records with another, and when they find an overlap, in the state's attorney's view: 'We've got a dirty cop. We've got a thief.' "

Attorneys for other suspended officers described agreements they and their fellow attorneys have reached with prosecutors. Some spoke on the condition of anonymity because the agreements have not been made public.

Pre-indictment plea deals often are attractive to defendants in part because they frequently include agreements on the penalty the state will seek and on which judge will hear the case.

The investigation aggravated the already-strained relationship between the police union and management. It has also presented challenges for the Montgomery County state's attorney, John McCarthy, because the cases could damage the suspended officers' credibility in traffic and criminal cases they have handled and because McCarthy, an elected official, has built a strong relationship with the police department's rank and file.

Most of the suspended officers are patrol officers. Two are detectives. One was assigned to the robbery division, and the other had recently joined the sex and homicide unit, the department's top investigative branch.

The inquiry began earlier this year after Grady Management officials approached police supervisors with concerns about one of the officers they employed as a security guard.

The complaint led to a broad review of payroll records of officers employed by the company. Investigators found that dozens of officers had been paid by Grady Management for hours that appeared to overlap with their county shifts.

Some officers were able to explain the discrepancies. Police supervisors routinely reach agreements with officers about shift changes and compensation time that are not recorded on timecards -- a practice that made the investigation challenging and that could provide a defense if any of the officers goes to trial.

The department winnowed the list of suspected double dippers to 15 officers, one of whom retired shortly before the investigation began. The 14 suspended officers were stripped of their guns, badges and police cars but have remained on the payroll.

In recent months, prosecutors invited the suspended officers and their attorneys to review the state's evidence, sources familiar with the case said. Most, but not all, accepted the invitation.

Heeney, the attorney for Redd, declined to review the records at the state's attorney's office, because he said he was invited to see them only under the supervision of prosecutors. Citing a document written by a police internal affairs officer, Heeney said Grady Management officials indicated to the police department early in the inquiry that they weren't keen on being embroiled in a criminal investigation. Grady Management officials have not returned numerous calls seeking comment, including one on Friday.

Although law enforcement officials have said little publicly about the investigation, Police Chief J. Thomas Manger has described it as thorough, fair and far-reaching.

Part-time work by police officers has become increasingly common in Montgomery County and the rest of the Washington region as the rise in the cost of living has outpaced increases in public sector wages. Security jobs, which can pay up to $50 an hour, are among the most coveted.

Officer Victor Valerio was the first to come under scrutiny. He had been in trouble at the department before for alleged violations of rules, including disregarding a supervisor's commands to break off a pursuit. The chase ended in a crash that injured two people. The county paid them nearly $5 million, the largest settlement it has paid.

Copyright 2007 The Washington Post

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