FORT LAUDERDALE — The Broward State Attorney’s Office is opening a probe into a Broward Sheriff Office (BSO) off-duty work program that an audit found to be replete with problems, including possible criminal abuse.
“We will request a copy of the report and I will assign a prosecutor to review it to determine if any crimes have been committed,” said Tim Donnelly, lead prosecutor and director of the Special Investigations Unit, the division of the state attorney’s office that targets public corruption.
The problems uncovered by the internal BSO audit includes instances of deputies working special details after calling in sick and receiving sick leave pay.
Like those of many other law enforcement agencies, BSO’s off-duty program allows deputies to work up to 30 extra hours a week at $37 to $43 per hour on what is termed “special details.”
Deputies work for private companies or governmental agencies to provide security, direct traffic, escort funeral processions or to provide a law-enforcement presence.
Those public agencies and private companies pay BSO the costs of their earnings from the extra work, plus an administration fee. Deputies then receive the special detail pay on their regular paychecks, with BSO contributing a corresponding percentage to their state pension accounts.
“Internal Audit worked with ETD [Enterprise Technology Division] to develop a report of all employees that were paid personal sick time and worked Special Details on the same day. 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 summary states.
Even at the minimum rate of $37 for each of the 973 hours, that would amount to more than $36,000 in improper pay for sick leave abuses alone in fiscal year 2009, as well as an undetermined amount of questionable pension payments.
Receiving pay while absent from the job without authorization can lead to criminal theft of pay charges. The practice, known as “double dipping,” takes place when an employee is absent without leave in order to work a second job or when they are already receiving some other type of compensation from the employer, such as sick pay.
Since the special detail pay in question also triggered contributions to the employee’s pension, prosecutors may also seek to determine if any fraud was committed against the Florida Retirement System, which runs the state pension plan. The audit only covers fiscal year 2009 and it remains unclear if the inquiry will focus on any other years.
Jim Leljedal, director of media relations for the sheriff’s department, said the department’s own review of the matter is over.
“That’s all been closed and addressed so there is no other review taking place,” Leljedal said.
The state attorney’s investigation will get underway as new details have emerged about alleged abuses of the program.
“The Sheriff’s Policy Manual Section 3.16 (C) states: ‘Employees will not be permitted to work more than 30 hours a week performing off-duty details and/or outside employment.’ It should be noted that while some employees may work less than one hour, such as on a funeral home detail, they will be paid for a minimum of three hours as stipulated in the Permit Application Terms and Conditions section. Thus, not every employee who was paid for more than 30 hours a week actually worked more than 30 hours of Special Details work,” the audit report states.
Some deputies working funeral details may have low-balled the actual number of hours they worked to keep from exceeding daily and weekly work limits, at least on paper, while still receiving the three-hour minimum pay for each funeral they escorted, sources said. This could potentially allow them to work several funerals without detection or exceeding hourly work limits.
The audit was conducted by Maria L. Fernandez, director of BSO’s Office of Internal Audit. It reveals a troubled program with little oversight and lax controls.
“The SDO [Special Detail Office] is comprised of three full-time employees. For fiscal year ended September 30, 2009 (FY09) the SDO had direct costs of $236,014. The SDO is overseen by a Captain, who also has responsibility for the Youth Intervention and Enforcement Division (YIED). In FY09, there were 973 sworn officers who worked Special Details for a total of 233,169 billed hours,” Fernandez wrote in her audit summary dated Oct. 8, 2010.
“Due to the workload described above, very little time is spent on monitoring compliance with Sheriff’s Policy Manual (SPM). Furthermore, there appears to be confusion as to who should monitor compliance with SPM depending on who Internal Audit spoke to – whether that should be the individual officer, the officer’s direct supervisor, the District Command, the SDO, or the Office of the Captain to whom SDO reports to.”
Some deputies were also found to be working details while they were unable to report to their regular jobs and were receiving worker’s compensation pay for on-the-job injuries. There were also instances of deputies working detail assignments during their regular shifts when they were being paid to be at work. Some deputies also worked details even though they were on leave for family deaths and receiving bereavement pay.
Donnelly said BSO usually forwards to the state attorney’s office copies of any investigation where there is reason to believe a crime may have occurred, but that didn’t happen with the special detail report.
“We were not made aware of any of this and only learned of it after reading your article,” Donnelly said. “If we are not sent a copy, then we will request it because several people have e-mailed me asking us to look at it.”
Elgin Jones may be contacted at EJones@SFLTimes.com