The L.A. County Sheriff's Department has had an embarrassing 2011: After KTLA revealed that a hypocritical "3000 Boys" gang had formed between allied deputies, a front-page LA Weekly expose centered on inmates and visitors who'd been beaten to a pulp by rogue L.A. County prison guards. (Since then, another lawsuit was filed against the department -- by a Palmdale apartment manager who says deputies beat him, falsely arrested him and threw around the word "nigger." Classy.)
The latest public shaming comes via a watchdog report...
... given to the Los Angeles Times by the department's own Office of Independent Review. "This past year," it reads, "the level of financial crimes we have observed has risen to more serious and deliberate allegations of misconduct."
Here are three hilarious, and rather pathetic, cases of insurance fraud highlighted in the report:
1. A deputy new to the department was found guilty of driving his own vehicle out to a field, dousing it with "ignitable liquid" and setting it on fire. When the car was traced back to the deputy, he filed a false police report, saying the vehicle must have been stolen from outside his house. (Because it would make so much sense for a car thief to immediately burn his bounty at the stake.)
The deputy turned out to be quite the stupid (alleged) criminal: His insurance company soon discovered that his "car could not be driven without a transponder key," and his cell-phone records showed he'd been in the field, not at his father's house, like he told investigators. Durr.
"Faced with a discharge notice, the deputy elected to resign," reads the report. Just as well -- a good law-enforcement officer should know his way around the skills of grand theft auto and arson, if only for background.
2. Another newish deputy tried to file a report of home burglary with a separate law-enforcement agency, claiming he had $10,000 worth of household items stolen -- but that he had already cleaned his house, so no evidence remained. From today's report:
The friend/officer taking the report became suspicious based on the value of the stolen items and the fact that the deputy had failed to immediately report the crime and had cleaned the house prior to calling police. The officer notified his supervisor, who visited the deputy's home with another officer. They spoke with members of the deputy's family who knew nothing about an alleged burglary of their property. When questioned, the deputy changed his story and claimed it was the garage that had been broken into and that the home was undisturbed.
Again -- durr. The second guy has also, thankfully, resigned.
3. The final account is perhaps the most facepalmy: A sheriff's deputy drove his car over the border, abandoned it somewhere in Mexico, then reported it as stolen, hoping to be reimbursed by his insurance company. But investigators quickly discovered that he still had all the keys to the vehicle, that all damage he claimed to be new was in fact pre-existing, and, like the first guy, he'd been using his cell phone at the scene of the crime.
The most embarrassing part about the fraud epidemic is that the Office of Independent Review blames the (very necessary) slashing of sheriff's overtime pay as deputies' reason for acting out.
Apparently, their standard of living had reached such heights that their spending habits didn't tighten with their pay cuts:
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Four or five years ago, most deputies who wanted to work overtime to earn extra money on a regular or occasional basis could generally do so quite easily. Overtime was generally available to any deputy who sought it. While some deputies worked overtime on occasion to earn extra money to save for leaner times or pay for a particular item they wanted to purchase, other deputies may have adopted a lifestyle beyond that which their regular salary afforded. ...
In essence, vehicles and other luxury goods may have been acquired when overtime was readily available, and those deputies who no longer have overtime as readily available may not have been able to keep up the payments on those luxury goods.
For instance, in the case of the first guy, "in addition to the three vehicles he owned, the deputy had a home with a substantial mortgage and three credit cards with balances of over $1,000 each."
For whatever reason, badly executed insurance fraud seems to have become the go-to answer for 2011. So the department breeds a culture of cruelty and of conniving criminal schemes, it seems. As if L.A. Sheriff Lee Baca didn't have enough haters on his hands already.