54 current, former CHP officers charged with overtime fraud at East L.A. station
California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta on Thursday announced theft and fraud charges against 54 former and current California Highway Patrol officers in connection with an alleged multiyear overtime fraud scheme at the East L.A. station.
The charges come three years after the CHP relieved of duty dozens of officers working in the East L.A. station after investigators gathered evidence that they exaggerated the number of hours they worked on protection details for Caltrans workers doing freeway repairs. So many officers were removed that the agency had to restaff much of the station.
For the record:
9:53 p.m. Feb. 17, 2022A previous version of this story said the charges come two years after dozens of officers were relieved of duty. That happened three years ago, in February 2019.
Bonta said the officers face a combined 302 counts, including charges of grand theft and the presentation of a fraudulent claim. The total amount of the fraudulent overtime hours is $226,556.
“Trust is a critical part of successful law enforcement,” Bonta said in announcing the charges. “These defendants disregarded the law through their alleged actions and did so without thought of how their conduct would impact the California Highway Patrol or the community that trusted them to protect and serve. I’m thankful to CHP for its thorough investigation and for working with DOJ to hold these officers accountable.”
Eleven of the officers are still employed and have been placed on administrative leave, CHP spokeswoman Fran Clader said.
In May 2018, the CHP launched an investigation into overtime fraud alleged to have occurred between Jan. 1, 2016, and March 31, 2018.
Officers are accused of padding their overtime hours during that period when assigned to provide protection detail for Caltrans The officers were paid through the Maintenance Zone Enhanced Enforcement Program or the Construction Zone Enhanced Enforcement Program, which are designed to protect workers maintaining the freeways. Scores of Caltrans workers have been killed and hundreds injured over the years, primarily victims of errant motorists who have plowed into work crews on the freeways.
Dozens of California Highway Patrol officers are being temporarily relieved of duty amid an investigation into whether they fraudulently received hundreds of hours of overtime pay while working out of the East Los Angeles station, officials said Friday.
According to Bonta, an officer would, for instance, record and receive pay for eight hours of overtime rather than the three to four hours actually worked at a detail. The job typically involves sitting in a cruiser at the end of a construction zone to ensure motorists don’t get too close.
In addition to the main scheme alleged, three of the former officers also are accused of recording fake hours for patrolling carpool lanes. According to Bonta’s allegations, the officers made up fake warnings and reports of assistance to drivers to support their fraudulent overtime claims.
Bonta began filing the charges at the beginning of this month. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department booked the officers on Feb. 15, 16, and 17. Bonta also refiled charges against nine defendants who were the subject of previous charges filed in July 2021.
The director of Caltrans has ordered a state audit of expenditures tied to the protection of the agency’s work crews by California Highway Patrol units after a CHP investigation uncovered evidence of fraudulent overtime among its officers.
All of the current and former officers are due to be arraigned on March 17 and March 18 in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
Two of the 54 current or former officers were arraigned in May on conspiracy charges and three counts each of accepting a bribe in connection with a bribery scheme. The two allegedly accepted bribes in exchange for falsifying documents to register exotic “gray market” cars.
Former L.A. County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, who represents many of the officers in civil proceedings, said they are innocent.
“Bonta does not know what he is doing when it comes to these cases. He is being poorly represented by deputy attorney generals assigned to the case,” Cooley said. “He will discover sooner or later [that] the California Highway Patrol’s conduct is unacceptable, they are selectively prosecuting and terminating from one station all because of a legitimate labor grievance and that this is retaliation of biblical proportions.”
The sheer number of officers charged and the scope of the practices alleged make it one of the largest and most widespread such cases involving law enforcement in decades.
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