It has been a rough couple of weeks for the Tampa Police Department. On. Sept. 27, the department fired a detective for allegedly stealing from the evidence room and a DUI supervisor for lying during an investigation into whether the DUI arrest of a local lawyer was a set-up, as we discussed in August.
Yesterday, the department fired a third officer, a 16-year veteran officer and patrol supervisor. Even more surprising, she is married to a respected Tampa homicide detective.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, in early August Tampa police detectives were eavesdropping on the phone calls of a jail inmate who had just been booked in on charges of petty theft and a probation violation. That inmate turns out to have been the biological mother of the police supervisor’s adopted daughter.
The officer and the inmate apparently spoke on the bugged phone at least 35 times over the following nine weeks. In one call, the inmate told the officer where to find her Electronic Benefit Transfer or EBT card, which is how food stamps are now delivered. According to the department, the officer retrieved that card as directed and then used it to purchase $365-worth of groceries at Walmart. Then, she sold the card for half its remaining value and deposited the money into the inmate’s jail canteen account.
On Thursday, the department fired the officer and arrested her on two counts of public benefits fraud and one of grand theft. The Times reports that she was in jail in lieu of $6,000 in bail as of yesterday. The other woman has also been charged with public assistance fraud because the EBT card wasn’t even legally hers.
The allegations are surprising, considering that the woman has no history of disciplinary issues and was apparently more than $91,000 a year. She earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology and a master’s in education while working to the department, and her husband is not suspected of any involvement.
As an officer herself, she would have been well aware that jail phone calls are routinely monitored. Moreover, a conviction could cost her departmental pension, which is estimated at around $46,000 a year. The risks of such a fraud seem to have far outweighed the miniscule benefits.
Law enforcement officers, like anyone else, are considered innocent until proven guilty, and it seems there may be more to this story.
Source: Tampa Bay Times, “Tampa police sergeant fired, charged with welfare fraud,” Jessica Vander Velde, Oct. 10, 2013