Current and former Massachusetts State Police officials under scrutiny internally for payroll discrepancies are now within the sights of federal prosecutors. On Wednesday, they announced charges against two troopers, one of whom is retired, and a former lieutenant.
The three are suspected of fraudulently obtaining more than $10,000 apiece in 2016 for claiming to have worked overtime hours when they were not actually on duty patrolling the Massachusetts Turnpike, according to U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling.
"Allegations like this where you could have widespread, systemic corruption -- in some ways petty corruption; it's not showing up for a shift or lying about having worked it -- I think you need somebody to look at that, because that kind of rot tends to spread," Lelling told reporters at a press conference Wednesday, hours before the initial appearance by the three suspects. "And in a law enforcement agency, you need its members to be working at the highest level all the time."
Shortly after sunrise on Wednesday, agents from the FBI and the U.S. Department of Transportation Office of the Inspector General arrested the three suspects at their homes without incident, said FBI Special Agent in Charge Harold Shaw.
Former Lt. David Wilson, 57, of Charlton, was paid $12,450 in overtime hours that he allegedly did not work; Trooper Gary Herman, 45, of Chester, was paid $12,468 for overtime he did not work; and former Trooper Paul Cesan, 50, of Southwick was paid $29,000 for overtime shifts he did not work, according to federal authorities. The three are charged with theft of government funds, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine of $250,000 or two times the total gain or loss, according to federal prosecutors.
Cesan and Herman worked out of the Westfield Barracks, and Wilson worked out of the Charlton Barracks.
To cover up the fact that they weren't on duty, the suspects allegedly altered tickets that had been previously issued and wrote up completely fabricated tickets. But it does not appear as though any motorists were harmed by citations for phony traffic violations because those fake tickets did not make it to the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV), according to Lelling.
"Because the citation was not actually issued to a motorist, that citation can't then go to the RMV" where it would eventually become known that even though a citation was issued the motorist was not stopped, Lelling told reporters. He said, "It does not seem that any motorist got a ticket they were not supposed to get. It's that the State Police record-keeping system reflects that tickets were written when in fact they were not as a way of covering up the fact that the trooper had not worked that shift."
In one example, Wilson submitted a carbon copy of a citation for a man supposedly caught driving 54 miles per hour in a 35 mile-per-hour zone resulting in a $140 fine, but the "ghost" ticket was never submitted to the RMV and never appeared on the man's driving record, according to the complaint.
As a result of the alleged fraud, the three suspects took home pay they did not earn and the public was denied the public safety benefits of police patrolling for dangerous drivers and other policing on the Massachusetts Turnpike, according to Lelling.
In March, Massachusetts State Police Col. Kerry Gilpin announced the results of an audit that found discrepancies between payroll records and work actually performed by employees and said 19 members of the force would face hearings. Nine of them swiftly retired and another nine were suspended without pay.
The federal criminal investigation has so far covered the year 2016 and shifts worked on the Accident and Injury Reduction Effort (AIRE) program and the X-Team initiative by Troop E, which was assigned to patrol the Turnpike and has since been absorbed into regional troops.
The alleged payroll fraud's total cost to taxpayers will depend on how widespread it was, according to Lelling.
"It could be a systemic problem in the State Police," said Lelling, who told reporters the investigation would continue. He said, "I think it would be a mistake to tar all troopers with this kind of conduct."
Shaw thanked Gilpin for her "commitment to rooting out corruption," and Lelling said, "I do think the State Police is now committed to fixing this problem."
After investigating payroll abuses, Gilpin referred her findings to the attorney general's office, according to the administration.
"As part of the ongoing implementation of our wide ranging reforms, we continue to audit overtime payments received by department members, and to provide the results of those audits to prosecutors for their review for potential criminality," Gilpin said in a statement. "We fully support and will continue to cooperate with the ongoing investigations being conducted by the U.S. Attorney and the Attorney General."
There is now stricter oversight and supervision for overtime shifts, and the department stopped conducting AIRE patrols in 2017, according to a State Police spokesman, who said the department is now auditing 2015 overtime payments and conducting quarterly audits on its top 50 earners.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, who oversees the State Police, previously said those who broke the rules should "face the music," and his spokesman on Wednesday reiterated that they should be held accountable.
"The Baker-Polito Administration and Colonel Gilpin are implementing a series of policies to reform the State Police, and Governor Baker believes any member of the department who is found to have stolen public funds must be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law," said Brendan Moss, Press Secretary for the Office of the Governor.
The police scandal quickly drew attention Wednesday from a candidate for governor. To restore public confidence in the State Police, an independent review by the state inspector general is needed, Democrat Jay Gonzalez said.
"In light of the mounting number of scandals, management failures and alleged criminal acts coming out of the Massachusetts State Police, today I am calling on the Inspector General to undertake a top to bottom review of the Department," Gonzalez said in a statement. "It is clear that Governor Baker is totally incapable or completely unwilling to oversee the State Police. The Baker administration's failures have led to fraud, falsified time sheets, falsified citations, embezzlement and general waste of taxpayer resources."
This report was originally published by State House News Service.