Stealing from your job is a big no-no. Collaborating with coworkers in a scheme to steal overtime pay is even worse. For most people, getting caught would involve you losing that job, with the possibility of being fined the amount you stole, and perhaps even jail time. Apparently, if you’re a cop, things are different. As Southern California news outlet The Daily Bulletin reports, felony charges against 48 California Highway Patrol Officers have been dropped after they were accused of participating in a massive overtime fraud scheme.
From 2016 to 2018, more than 50 officers at the CHP’s East L.A. station allegedly participated in a scheme to steal taxpayer money by padding their hours. The officers allegedly lied about the amount of time they were on freeway cleanup detail. An investigation launched in 2019 found that the group received more than $360,000 in fraudulent overtime pay — which comes out of the Motor Vehicle Fund, sustained by California vehicle registration fees — and that even some supervisors were aware of the coordinated fraud.
The cases finally went to a state superior court where charges against nearly all of the accused officers were dismissed. L.A. County superior court judge Ronald Coen gave the officers a sweet plea deal: the charges were dropped from felonies to misdemeanors, and would be dismissed entirely if the accused cops agreed to pay back what was stolen. In total, 52 accused CHP officers agreed to the terms, 48 of whom had already paid back the money and satisfied the terms of the agreement before the December 8th deadline. Two officers didn’t take the deal. They’ll have a hearing scheduled at a later date.
The office of California Attorney General Bob Bonta objected to the court’s deal. So how exactly did the officers get off on something that, in any other situation, would surely be prosecuted? Apparently, the officers’ defense tactic was to claim that what they did was normal. In court documents obtained by The Sacramento Bee, officers alleged that what they did was common practice and had been going on for over 20 years. According to the documents, officers routinely misrepresent the amount of time they work, sometimes going so far as to go off-duty hours before their shifts end. As the Sacramento Bee reports, these officers claimed this conduct was all supported by supervisors and written department policy. The accused officers claimed they were being “singled out” because two officers filed a labor grievance when overtime rules were changed.
The argument doesn’t seem to hold up, because in recent years the department has fired officers for misrepresenting overtime hours. CHP won’t confirm exactly how many officers have been fired, but case files from 2021 show that 86 officers were investigated for overtime violations, 42 of whom were fired. Of the officers whose charges were dismissed, it seems what really help their case was showing that the practice of working fewer hours but still getting paid for a full shift was common among police departments statewide. From The Bee:
The court documents claim CHP officers are routinely paid for unworked hours all over the state in a variety of assignments, including dignitary and parade security assignments that had been worked by some of the department’s highest-ranking officials.
Four retired CHP officials said in a July 7 court document that it’s common to work less than a full shift and receive full pay.
The CHP declined to comment on the case or the overtime activities.