08/31/2012 07:46 pm ET Updated Aug 31, 2012

Kamala Harris Files Charges Alleging Police Embezzled $100,000 In Overtime

Story comes courtesy of California Watch.

By Ryan Gabrielson

The California attorney general’s office filed criminal charges this week against two former officials at the state developmental centers’ in-house police force for allegedly embezzling more than $100,000 in overtime pay.

The charges stem from more than 2,500 overtime hours that Scott Gardner, a former investigator at the Porterville Developmental Center, claimed to have worked in 2008, according to court records and state pay data. The extra hours netted Gardner $121,000 in overtime pay that year.

However, the city police department in Porterville found evidence that Gardner received extra pay for days spent in Las Vegas and elsewhere. Jeffrey Bradley, the former police chief, allegedly participated in the fraud “by directing and authorizing false entries on overtime slips submitted by Scott Gardner with respect to the number of hours worked and the reasons the hours were worked,” the criminal complaint said.

A Tulare County grand jury indicted the pair on embezzlement charges in 2010. But the judge threw out the case last year, ruling the developmental center’s internal probe violated the officers' rights under the California Peace Officers’ Bill of Rights.

The police force, called the Office of Protective Services, patrols and investigates criminal activity at five board-and-care institutions that house about 1,800 patients with cerebral palsy and profound intellectual disabilities in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, Tulare and Sonoma counties.

Yesterday, Bradley said he was not ready to discuss the charges. Gardner did not return phone calls seeking comment. They pleaded not guilty in the previous case.

W. Scott Quinlan, Bradley’s attorney in the earlier criminal case, said Bradley did not knowingly approve fraudulent overtime hours. Developmental center officers routinely claimed thousands of extra work hours a year, Quinlan said, giving Bradley no cause to question Gardner’s timesheets.

“At the time, it didn’t ring a bell with him,” Quinlan said.

Officials at the state Department of Developmental Services, which operates the centers and police force, worked with state prosecutors to build the criminal case against Bradley and Gardner, Terri Delgadillo, the agency’s director, said in a written statement. The department is “pleased that charges have been filed,” she wrote.

“The department will continue to conduct administrative and criminal investigations as warranted and take aggressive disciplinary action against employees found to have abused overtime, including dismissal,” Delgadillo’s statement said.

State prosecutors are reopening the criminal case against Gardner and Bradley as scrutiny of the Office of Protective Services has intensified. In response to reporting by California Watch, state lawmakers this month ordered the California State Auditor to examine the force’s handling of criminal investigations and overtime spending.

Police at the centers failed to conduct basic police work even when patients died under mysterious circumstances over the past decade. State officials have documented hundreds of cases at the facilities of abuse and unexplained injuries, almost none of which have led to arrests.

Meanwhile, the force is among the most proficient in the state at accumulating overtime, California Watch found.

Twenty-two officers, roughly a fourth of the force, collected enough overtime to double their salaries at least once during the past four years, state pay data shows. The Office of Protective Services paid officers overtime to patrol the Agnews Developmental Center in San Jose for two years after the facility closed in March 2009.

One patrol officer at the Porterville center, Thomas Lopez, has routinely doubled and even tripled his base pay with overtime hours. In 2008, Lopez received $146,000 in extra pay. To achieve that income level, he would have had to work 107 hours each week for the entire year, without any vacation or leave time.

In an interview with California Watch earlier this year, Lopez acknowledged he has slept during overtime shifts. He did not respond to a phone call seeking comment yesterday.

In June, the state Department of Developmental Services opened an internal investigation of Lopez’s overtime hours.

The attorney general’s office took over the investigation into Bradley and Gardner last year at the request of the Tulare County district attorney. State prosecutors are not investigating other overtime spending at the Office of Protective Services, said Lynda Gledhill, a spokeswoman for the attorney general.

Bradley and Gardner are charged with embezzlement of public funds, grand theft and making fraudulent claims, court records show. Bradley faces three additional counts for “public officer” crimes related to his alleged failure to protect public money.

Gledhill said the court issued arrest warrants for the former police officers. The Porterville Police Department took Bradley into custody Wednesday night but had not yet located Gardner as of yesterday afternoon. Bradley posted bond and was released.

Bradley started at the Office of Protective Services as a security guard in 1998. He moved up the ranks at the Lanterman and Porterville centers until the department named him chief of the force in 2008. The Department of Developmental Services fired Bradley in July 2010, about five months after the grand jury indicted him and Gardner. He is appealing his termination with the State Personnel Board.

Gardner joined with the developmental center force as a patrol officer in 1998 and received a promotion to detective in 2007, personnel records show. Gardner resigned his post a few days before the department fired Bradley.

Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled the name of the spokeswoman for the attorney general. Her name is Lynda Gledhill.

Christina Jewett is an investigative reporter for California Watch, a project of the non-profit Center for Investigative Reporting. Find more California Watch stories here.