FORT LAUDERDALE — An internal audit of a Broward Sheriff’s Office program that allows off-duty deputies to earn extra money has uncovered cronyism, lax oversight and possibly theft.
“During our work, we noted that nine District Chiefs/Captains worked Special Details. While six of them worked less than 200 hours/year, there was one that worked slightly more than 300 hours and two that worked over 600 hours (billing over $25,000 each),” Maria L. Fernandez, director of the Office of Internal Audit, wrote in a summary of the findings.
“One District Chief consistently works a 4:00 pm Friday detail. This same Chief worked 8.5 hour and one 9 hour detail on two different Thursdays, starting at 2 pm, although he did not take any type of personal leave on those days,” Fernandez wrote.
The report does not identify the deputies involved in the alleged abuse by name, only their job titles.
Receiving pay while absent from the job without authorization can lead to criminal theft of pay charges. The practice is known as “double dipping” — when an employee is absent without leave in order to work a second job.
Sheriff Al Lamberti did not respond to phone calls and e-mails seeking comment or to interview requests made through the department’s media relations office.
Some observers, however, are calling for a criminal investigation.
“BSO has proven over the years that they are incapable of policing themselves and this demands an investigation by the state attorney’s office,” said Scott Israel, who ran for sheriff in 2008 and lost to Lamberti.
“I don’t have personal knowledge of this matter but if there is any indication of wrongdoing, the public has a right to know and we should not be playing favorites just because of their ranks,” Israel said.
Officials at the Broward State Attorney’s Office say they have no knowledge of the audit and no cases have been referred to the office for review.
“Everyone is afraid to ask questions but the rumors are all over the department,” said one deputy, who asked to remain anonymous. “Some high-ranking people are caught and they are keeping it hush-hush.”
Besides their regular jobs, the Broward Sheriff’s Office special detail program allows deputies to work up to 30 extra hours a week at $37 to $43 per hour for private companies and governmental agencies, depending on the deputy’s rank. Those using the service also pay the department a fee to cover administrative costs.
Deputies assigned to special detail provide security, direct traffic, escort funeral processions or a law-enforcement presence.
ABUSE OF LEAVE POLICIES
The internal audit also found instances of some deputies and supervisors working off-duty detail when they were on sick and bereavement leave and even while receiving worker’s compensation pay.
“There were 85 employees, accounting for 135 instances for a total of 973 personal sick time hours paid by BSO while they were working Special Details,” the audit states.
Violations of the department’s 30-hour per week limit on secondary employment and special detail were equally rampant and routinely disregarded, the audit found, with no clear penalties or consequences for doing so.
“Of those in violation of the 30 hours/week cap, 59 were Deputies, 5 were Sergeants, 3 were Lieutenants and 1 was a reservist,” Fernandez wrote, while pointing out that the reserve deputy exceeded the cap 14 times in 2009.
“Additionally, those individuals exceeding the 30 hours/week cap also received an additional $424,159 in overtime compensation,” she wrote.
Fernandez also found the program fraught with other problems, such as cronyism, little or no oversight and jobs being assigned based on supervisors’ “experience with certain individuals.”
The internal audit followed a February investigation of the same program that was conducted by Broward County. Unlike BSO’s internal audit, the county audit did not closely scrutinize operational issues and instead largely focused on the program’s budgetary and financial matters.
Among other items, the county’s audit found that BSO had $1.4 million in outstanding fees it was owed that were more than 30 days past due for off-duty work. Of that amount, $1.2 million, or 92 percent, was owed by Broward County.
“We recommend the Board of County Commissioners request that the County Administrator ensure payment for services are timely and pursuant to Broward County’s Prompt Payment Act,” wrote John Curry, BSO director of administration, in a response memo to county auditor Evan Lukic.
It is unclear if Curry has responded to the 12-page internal audit and BSO has not explained what steps are being taken to address problems it has identified.
Elgin Jones may be contacted at EJones@SFLTimes.com
Pictured: Sheriff Al Lamberti