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Saturday, March 28, 2009

Entire Narcotics Unit Named in Pay Scam

Entire narcotics unit in McKeesport named in pay scam
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette by Moriah Balingit - March 19, 2009

Seven McKeesport police officers suspended after city officials said they bilked the city of unearned overtime pay included two lieutenants and all four members of the department's narcotics unit. Two weeks ago, after Chief Joe Pero said he discovered that the officers were billing the city for court appearances they never made, the seven were suspended without pay. Officials declined to identify the officers involved, but sources familiar with the investigation said the group suspended included the lieutnenant and three detectives who constituted the narcotics unit, in addition to another detective, another lieutenant and a patrolman. All were reassigned. The four in the narcotics squad also were members of the District Attorney's Narcotics Enforcement Team, a county-wide task force that includes members of local police departments and investigators from the district attorney's office. Mike Manko, a spokesman for the district attorney's office, confirmed that some of the suspended officers had connections to DANET. "While we don't anticipate any problems with cases they have been on, we will be reviewing all of those cases to make sure there are no problems," he said in an e-mail.

Last week, the Allegheny County district attorney's office recommended that McKeesport audit cases involving the men going back to January 2008, to make sure all incidents of misappropriation are caught. Mayor Jim Brewster said last week that he had elected to use a private firm for the audit. Meanwhile, some public and elected officials expressed frustration that they were kept out of the loop of what was going on in the department. A few said they learned of the situation from media reports or when they were contacted by reporters. "I think that's poor communication flow, not keeping your council informed," said Councilman Paul Shelly Jr. "I wish the entire council and the [city] controller [Ray Malinchak] had been kept abreast as soon ... as the chief thought he had found something." Mr. Shelly was hesitant to comment further because he said he didn't know enough about what had happened. But he said he was pleased that the chief and the mayor moved quickly to rectify the situation. On Tuesday, Mr. Shelly sent a letter to council members and other city officials requesting a special meeting to discuss the issue. He said he hoped he would learn more then.

Mr. Malinchak said he had received no correspondence from the mayor or the police chief regarding the situation, and was highly skeptical of the mayor's claim that the city had not lost any money in the scheme. Last week, Mayor Brewster said the city was able to recover the money paid in unearned overtime because the men were suspended without pay. Mr. Malinchak said he wanted evidence that the officers actually paid the money back, and that suspending them without pay was not punishment enough. "If someone down at the city thinks they have the authority ... to negotiate another settlement, then I have a problem with that," he said. Councilman Dale McCall said he thought it was proper that the mayor and the chief handled the situation without council's oversight, noting that the police department is officially overseen by the mayor. "I give them a lot of credit for taking the bull by the horns and taking care of that," he said. Ultimately, he said that he trusted Mayor Brewster and Chief Pero to handle the situation wisely. Moriah Balingit can be reached at or 412-263-2533.

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