Judge dismisses overtime fraud cases against 48 CHP officers
- US News
- December 2, 2022
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A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge has dismissed felony fraud and wage theft charges against 48 California Highway Patrol officers accused of cheating overtime at the East LA station, the attorney general’s office said Thursday.
The judge’s actions end the vast majority of California Atty’s 54 cases. Gen Rob Bonta announced against former and current CHP officers in February.
As part of the agreement, the officers agreed to participate in a misdemeanor diversion program and met conditions, including paying compensation. None of the officials who had argued that they were following longstanding practices at the agency admitted their guilt.
The indictments came three years after the CHP suspended dozens of officers who worked at the East LA station after investigators gathered evidence they exaggerated the number of hours they worked on protection details for Caltrans Workers had worked making highway repairs. So many officers were removed that the agency had to re-staff much of the station.
Judge Ronald S. Coen extended the offer of diversion to all 54 current and former officers last month over the prosecutor’s appeal, according to the attorney general’s office.
He offered to reduce all crime and allow officers to participate in a misdemeanor program that would require them to fully refund money they allegedly received illegally. According to the Attorney General’s Office, 50 out of 54 agreed and had various due dates.
Two of the four officials who initially did not accept the diversion contract later agreed, and one of them has completed the program and paid compensation. The other officer remains on diversion, with a progress report scheduled for June 5 on the court’s calendar.
On Thursday, Coen formally dismissed nine of the officers’ cases, bringing the total number of defendants whose cases were dismissed under diversion to 48, according to the attorney general’s office.
Only two of the 54 cases will face a preliminary hearing, with dates set to be set in February.
At one point, the 54 officers faced a total of 302 charges, including counts of grand theft and making a fraudulent claim. The total amount of fraudulent overtime was $226,556. Earlier this year, only 11 of the officers were still employed by the CHP and placed on administrative leave.
The cases stemmed from a CHP investigation launched in May 2018 into overtime fraud, which allegedly took place between January 1, 2016 and March 31, 2018.
Officers have been accused of increasing their overtime hours when tasked with providing protection details for the California Department of Transportation for which they were paid through the Maintenance Zone Enhanced Enforcement Program or the Construction Zone Enhanced Enforcement Program. Both are designed to protect workers who maintain highways. Scores of Caltrans workers have been killed and hundreds injured over the years, mostly victims of stray motorists plowing down freeways in worker teams.
According to Bonta, an officer would record eight hours of overtime and be paid for it, rather than the three to four hours actually worked at a detail. The job usually consists of sitting in a cruiser at the end of a construction site to make sure motorists don’t get too close.
In addition to the alleged main scheme, three of the former officers were charged with recording false hours for patrolling carpool lanes. According to Bonta’s allegations, officers fabricated fake warnings and driver assistance reports to back up their overtime claims.
Former LA County Dist. atty Steve Cooley, who represents many of the officers in civil cases, has repeatedly stated that they are innocent.
“Bonta doesn’t know what he’s doing when it comes to these cases. He is poorly represented by assistant attorney generals assigned to the case,” Cooley said. “Sooner or later he will discover it [that] The behavior of the California Highway Patrol is unacceptable, they are selectively prosecuting and terminating from one station, all over a legitimate work grievance, and that this is retaliation of biblical proportions.”