The State Regulation Enforcement Division (SLED) investigation into the Metropolis of Chester Police Division funds earlier this yr that cleared three officers of wrongdoing was requested by Metropolis Administrator Stephanie Jackson, centered on cash paid out for working DUI checkpoints from an account she claimed was unauthorized, however comprises the allegation that she knew in regards to the cost association for years earlier than taking the matter to SLED.
The Information & Reporter obtained reviews on the SLED investigation via a Freedom of Info Act request.The report notes that SLED obtained a written request from legal professional Joanie Winters (who handles employment issues and a few others duties for the Metropolis of Chester) early this yr asking for an investigation into allegations that Chief Eric Williams, Cpt. Travis Moore and Lt. Rickey Sanders misappropriated funds from the Hazel Pittman Middle (the state’s designated substance abuse authority in Chester County) and opened a checking account at Spratt Financial savings and Mortgage with out the Metropolis’s information.
The request from Winters got here on the course of Jackson after a month-to-month assertion from Spratt confirmed up at Metropolis Corridor for an account Jackson mentioned neither she nor another official was conscious existed. She additionally mentioned there was a scarcity of information for cash paid out by Hazel Pittman and alleged that the Metropolis was unaware that the police division cashed checks from Hazel Pittman.
As soon as SLED started an preliminary inquiry (which finally turned a full-blown investigation that finally discovered a scarcity of proof to convey any expenses ) in early January, Jackson suspended Williams, Moore and Sanders. Per a Williams interview with SLED, he was really present process firearms coaching in Newberry when he obtained a name from Jackson asking if he had checked his e mail. He knowledgeable her he had not, since cell telephones weren’t permitted on the firing vary. He checked it at that time and located an e mail from Jackson telling him he, Moore and Sanders have been suspended instantly and indefinitely with out pay.
Jackson informed SLED she discovered after receiving a financial institution assertion from Spratt in December of 2020 that Williams had opened an account there and put himself, Moore and Sanders as licensed signatories and that the police division submitted invoices to Hazel Pittman to acquire federal grant funds for reimbursement for hours labored at “DUI checkpoints, security checkpoints and saturation patrols.” Grant funds have been paid with a test, which was taken to the financial institution and cashed, with direct money funds made to officers that labored the checkpoints.
The checkpoints have been a part of the ECHO DUI Process Pressure that has been in operation within the county for years. Funded via a federal grant administered by Hazel Pittman, it funded promoting and stepped up enforcement of drunk driving in Chester County. The county’s three municipal police departments and the Chester County Sheriff’s Workplace took half within the partnership, with the intention being that off-duty officers be paid an hourly price to man site visitors checkpoints.
That turned a degree of competition within the current corruption case towards former Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood and two former deputies, as a result of it was alleged that he and different command employees really pocketed cash themselves for checkpoints they didn’t really work on the expense of deputies that did. That misuse of funds and abuse of energy will not be alleged because it pertains to the Chester Police Division. Williams asserted within the interview with SLED that he by no means labored the checkpoints himself, believing that was a approach for his officers to make more money, one thing he mentioned many badly wanted as a result of Jackson had ended extra time pay for officers.
SLED additionally interviewed Marc Wooden, a CPA that has dealt with many of the Metropolis’s finance duties for almost two years as town has not employed a finance director since 2019. Wooden had reviewed invoices indicating that from 2015 till 2019, metropolis officers didn’t work greater than 12 checkpoints in a yr and that the whole paid out didn’t exceed $20,000 in any given yr. In 2020, although, 47 invoices have been submitted for such work totaling $60,000. Provided that timecards don’t listing the precise instances officers have been on the clock (solely the variety of hours labored) it couldn’t be decided whether or not or not officers may need been double-dipping by working a checkpoint throughout work hours for the division. Nonetheless, Williams, Moore, Sanders and Hazel Pittman Director of Prevention Companies Melody Reid all confirmed that the step-ups in checkpoints in 2020 have been performed partly as a result of it was the final yr of the grant and the cash wanted to be spent, partly due to want associated to crime and fully on the request of Reid herself, who mentioned information was wanted for a number of days of the week and likewise throughout different instances of the day than at night time (when most checkpoints happen).
A Hazel Pittman worker was current at almost all the checkpoints labored by the Metropolis Police. Sanders maintained information on who labored at checkpoints and a number of individuals interviewed by SLED confirmed that Williams confused that any officers working checkpoints had to take action on off days or had to make use of their very own division go away time.
In his interview with SLED, Williams mentioned that earlier than he got here to the division, the follow of the police division billing Hazel Pittman for work at checkpoints was already established. He mentioned the identical was true of the follow of the checks from Hazel Pittman being cashed at Spratt, with the cash then distributed to officers with the understanding that they have been accountable for claiming the cash on their earnings taxes themselves.
Williams’ feedback within the interview contradicted what Jackson had informed SLED about not understanding in regards to the funds, as a result of he informed the SLED interviewers that Jackson knew very nicely in regards to the funds as Reid herself met with Jackson upon her 2018 hiring as metropolis administrator and defined it to her.
In a separate SLED interview, Reid confirmed having given Jackson a tour of the Hazel Pittman facility and of getting defined the cost system for officers working checkpoints to her early in her tenure as administrator.
Williams additional alleged that Jackson folded three restricted police division accounts (police fines and charges, the narcotics account and the narcotics seizure account) into the Metropolis’s basic fund. When now-retired Metropolis Finance Director Jerry Baker informed Jackson that for any cash to be moved out of these accounts a signature was required from Williams, “she informed Baker she didn’t want anybody’s approval.” She melded them into the final fund after Baker’s retirement, which Williams mentioned made it significantly more durable to trace these police funds.
“Williams suggested Administrator Jackson was performing as town administrator, (chief monetary officer) human assets director and the payroll individual,” the SLED report notes.
As for the checking account arrange at Spratt, Williams mentioned it was not his thought and mentioned that he had the statements despatched to Metropolis Corridor as an act of full transparency and to supply for correct accounting. Williams was in a position to produce a recording of a telephone name he had with an worker of Spratt that reached out to him with the information that the financial institution was going to start mandating that anybody cashing a test on the financial institution have an account there. The financial institution worker indicated she already had the Metropolis’s data on file, had already accomplished the paperwork and had the knowledge on Sanders as nicely. She solely wanted data from Williams and one different individual to arrange the account. Williams offered his data and had Moore do the identical. The account was put underneath the identify “Chester Police Division” He informed the financial institution worker the account must be deposit solely and would solely be used to money checks from Hazel Pittman. That financial institution worker was interviewed by SLED and confirmed all the pieces that Williams mentioned in regards to the setup of the checking account.
Williams mentioned he was suspended with none dialogue being had in regards to the insurance policies Jackson was alleging that he violated.
Moore was interviewed and confirmed the model of occasions as detailed by Williams. He personally had little or no to do with something, although. He solely agreed to have his identify placed on the Spratt account on the request of Williams (in case the chief was unavailable and the financial institution wanted one thing). He didn’t deal with scheduling for the checkpoints and infrequently labored them as time wore on, opting to spend time along with his household as a substitute.
Sanders informed SLED he dealt with the invoicing to Hazel Pittman, would money the checks they despatched for checkpoints labored and provides that to officers within the type of money. He additionally labored checkpoints however mentioned he heeded the phrase of Williams about not double-dipping, ensuring he labored his full 10-hour shift along with any checkpoint duties he would undertake.
Reid confirmed to SLED that the system of compensation for officers had been in place from a while, as at a sure level federal restrictions disallowed the follow of giving officers checks (and a 1099 tax type) instantly. Checks have been despatched to particular person departments for a while, that are then accountable for dispersing the funds to officers.
The Information & Reporter additionally obtained a letter despatched from Heather Weiss (senior assistant deputy legal professional basic of South Carolina) to Particular Agent Kevin Blake at SLED (who dealt with the majority of the investigation).
“After cautious evaluate of your investigation concerning the above-referenced matter, we’ve concluded that there’s inadequate proof to advantage prison prosecution. I’m subsequently closing our file and returning your investigative file with this letter,” Weiss wrote.
Williams technically stays employed by town however has not been reinstated since being cleared. Moore resigned this summer time for causes associated to advantages (per legal professional Paul Porter) and Sanders is not employed by the Metropolis, although he and Porter keep he didn’t resign. It’s the Metropolis’s competition that he did.
The three males have filed swimsuit towards The Metropolis of Chester, Jackson and Mayor Wanda Stringfellow on allegations of negligence, breach of contract, wrongful discharge, abuse of course of, malicious prosecution, wage cost violation, defamation and civil conspiracy.