An ex-Boston Police Sergeant and a former street police officer have pleaded guilty in an overtime fraud investigation case that has been ongoing at the Boston Police Department’s evidence warehouse this year.
Gerard O’Brien, 62, and Diana Lopez, 56, agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit theft regarding programs that receive federal funds and one count of embezzlement from an agency that receives federal funds. O’Brien pleaded guilty on June 17, but a plea hearing has not been set for Lopez.
9 Police Officers Were Involved In Overtime Fraud Scheme Over Several Years
In September 2020, Lopez, O’Brien, and seven other cops in Boston were placed under arrest and charged for their parts in an overtime fraud conspiracy that may have embezzled $250,000 from May 2016 to February 2019.
As part of this investigation, four other police officers have been charged as of June 2021: former officer Joseph Nee, former Captain Richard Evans, and former Sergeants George Finch and William Baxter.
Nee will plead guilty, but no plea hearing date has been set, while Finch pleaded guilty on June 1. Baxter is expected to plead guilty on June 25, 2021.
Federal investigators allege that Lopez and O’Brien submitted phony overtime paperwork for hours that they did not work at the evidence warehouse. The first one, known as purge over time, was a weekday shift from four to eight PM that was supposed to be for getting rid of old, unneeded evidence.
The second shift was called kiosk overtime and involved driving to every police district in the city to gather prescription drugs that were to be incinerated.
O’Brien And Lopez Routinely Lied About Working 4-Hour Purge Shifts
Both leaders of the embezzlement scheme claimed to work the four to 8 pm purge shift, but they usually left by 6 pm and even earlier. Also, O’Brien willingly endorsed the phone overtime paperwork for his subordinates who also left this shift early.
For the kiosk shift, the men and women turned in overtime paperwork claiming to have worked eight hours. However, in most cases, they only worked three or four hours.
From December 2016 to February 2019, O’Brien collected about $25,900 for the overtime hours he didn’t work. From January 2016 to February 2019, Lopez collected $36,000 for hours she didn’t work.
From 2015 to 2019, the Boston Police Department received benefits from the US Department of Transportation and the US Department of Justice for more than $10,000, which was part of several federal grants. It’s unlikely that the police officers knew that they were in effect stealing federal money, which is a federal crime.
The federal charge of embezzlement from an agency that receives federal funds can result in a prison term of up to 10 years and a fine of $250,000. In addition, three years of supervised release may also be required.
The conspiracy charge may result in a federal prison sentence of five years with a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release.
Plea Deals Call For Shorter Prison Sentences
Lopez, O’Brien, and Nee have made plea deals with the federal prosecutor. Each of them is in line for sentences at the lower end of the range. However, the plea deals aren’t binding, and the presiding judge makes the final call.
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Nee has the lowest offense level evaluation at 15, which means he may receive about 18 months to 2 years in prison.
O’Brien has a higher offense level of 19, which means he could receive 2 or three years in federal prison.
Scope Of Overtime Scheme Has Eclipsed Another Recent Massachusetts Scandal
With more than 12 Boston cops charged and some already pleading guilty, the overtime scandal has surpassed a similar scandal that plagued the Massachusetts State Police.
Ten state troopers were slapped with state and federal charges in another overtime scandal, which totaled $200,000 or more in phony pay over 24 months.
The Boston cops seem to have collected bogus over time even as the Massachusetts State Police scandal unfolded.
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It is still unclear how federal agents became aware of the Boston police scheme. The Boston police anti-corruption team has been working on the case, but they have not commented publicly.
Charges Could Make Trouble For Prosecutors On Other Cases
At least nine Boston police officers have been placed into a database managed by the district attorney for Suffolk County that tells prosecutors which cops are potential problem witnesses in court.
According to the city police department spokesman, if a police officer shows dishonesty, how can that same person testify about evidence protocols? It should be someone who has not been tainted by the overtime scandal.
Also, the overtime scandal investigation could widen, with more Boston police eventually being charged with crimes. All we can do is wait and see what the investigators uncover shortly.