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Councilor gives up deputy post after probe.

Byline: Jack Moran The Register-Guard

SPRINGFIELD - The city of Springfield's website says Councilor Joe Pishioneri is employed as a Lane County sheriff's deputy.

But, in fact, Pishioneri's 31-year career in law enforcement ended Feb. 1, after the Lane County District Attorney's Office concluded that he probably had committed theft and then misled investigators about his conduct.

Prosecutors say Pishioneri engaged in apparent financial "double dipping" related to his roles as both a full-time, paid deputy and a volunteer city councilor.

The investigation - first handled by the state Department of Justice and later expanded by local officials - dealt with circumstances surrounding Pishioneri's attendance at an Oregon Association of Clean Water Agencies conference in Bend last summer.

Pishioneri told investigators that he went to the three-day conference to represent the city, but that he also thought it could be a chance for him to tell other meeting attendees about Lane County's jail inmate work crew program.

In his role as an unpaid, elected city official, Pishioneri asked Springfield city officials in advance of the conference to give him per-mile and per-diem expense payments for attending the conference, and he received a total of $229.09.

But after getting the advance payment from the city, he then used a Lane County government vehicle and gasoline to make the trip, at no cost to himself.

Then, after returning to duty as a deputy, he signed his time card as if he had worked regular paid shifts for the county while at the conference, according to an investigative report released by the DA's office in response to a public records request from The Register-Guard.

The investigation found that Pishioneri didn't reimburse the city its mileage or change his timecard to vacation time until after he was confronted by Lane County officials about the issue.

Pishioneri, 58, denies wrongdoing and says that he ultimately retired after the probe. He claims that he made an innocent mistake on his time card, and that the investigation surprised him.

Prosecutors, however, found that explanations Pishioneri provided to investigators "lack credibility," Lane County Chief Deputy District Attorney Erik Hasselman wrote in a four-page evaluation of the case.

But they didn't file theft and official misconduct charges due to insufficient evidence to prove a case in court, the report states.

Hasselman's report details the investigation, which has put Pishioneri at risk of losing his ability to work as a police officer. The state agency in charge of police training and certification programs is now reviewing the case.

Time card questions

The report states that after Pishioneri received the $229 payment from the city prior to the conference, he separately obtained permission from a sheriff's sergeant to drive a county vehicle to Bend.

Several higher-ups in the sheriff's office subsequently learned that Pishioneri had recorded on his time card that he had worked regular, paid shifts while at the conference. In response, Pishioneri told them he had made a mistake, and that he intended to mark the time as vacation, according to the report.

Pishioneri said he told his supervisor that he would change the time card, but that he forgot to do so "for a few days" before being reminded about it. Hasselman's report shows that Pishioneri asked county payroll officials to recode his time card one week after sheriff's officials first spoke with him about the situation.

One month later, Pishioneri told a Department of Justice agent that his conference attendance actually was connected to his sheriff's duties, because he believed that he might be able to promote a sheriff's work-crew program at the conference, the report states.

He told the agent that he changed his time card after meeting with supervisors in the sheriff's office to "avoid any conflict," according to the report.

But a sheriff's official reported that Pishioneri has "no connection" to the work crew's "organization and function," Hasselman wrote.

The prosecutor concluded Pishioneri's assertion that his conference attendance potentially related to his duties as a sheriff's deputy was "unconvincing."

"It appears Dep. Pishioneri attempted to get paid wages by the county for a conference he was attending for the city," Hasselman wrote. "It similarly appears that he used a county vehicle and fuel for attendance at an event related to his position as a city councilor. As such, it appears he obtained benefits he was not entitled to obtain."

Pishioneri subsequently reimbursed the city $138 for mileage expenses, as he had used a county issued gas card to fuel up the sheriff's vehicle while traveling to and from Bend, Hasselman said.

Department of Justice investigators found no "clear intent for Pishioneri to keep the mileage reimbursement that he was not entitled to," the report states.

But after Hasselman worked with sheriff's officials on additional investigation in the matter, Hasselman found probable cause to believe Pishioneri had committed second- or third-degree theft, as well as the crime of first-degree official misconduct.

The prosecutor said he didn't think he could prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt due to what he characterized as Pishioneri's "apparent lack of defined duties" in the sheriff's office's corrections division, which allowed Pishioneri "to self-proclaim he was representing LCSO at these commission functions."

Also complicating a potential criminal case was the fact that sheriff's sergeant David Bones had given Pishioneri permission to use a county vehicle to travel to and from Bend, Hasselman wrote.

Pishioneri's response

Pishioneri, in a lengthy statement issued Tuesday to The Register-Guard in response to questions about the situation, maintained that he's been wrongly accused of misconduct.

"Unfortunately, in our system, subjective assertions and assumptions can be made that can impugn a public servant's records for the rest of their lives causing embarrassment and humiliation, but I don't know how to fix that problem," he wrote. "I have spent thousands of hours as a volunteer helping to make the community a better and safer place to live. No public servant who serves their community with honor and dignity should have to go through this kind of personal humiliation. I will, as always, continue to work hard and serve the people of this community to the best of my ability."

Pishioneri said he retired from the sheriff's office but declined to answer additional questions, saying in a text message that he agreed with "guidance" that he'd received in regard to responding to a reporter's inquiry.

Lane County Sheriff Byron Trapp declined to discuss what led to the end of Pishioneri's career with the department. He said that Pishioneri was hired as a deputy in 1986 and that his last day of employment was Feb. 1. Pishioneri primarily worked in the sheriff's corrections division, which oversees the jail and its associated programs.

Trapp referred additional questions to the county counsel's office, which has not responded to a public records request made Monday by The Register-Guard requesting records related to the county's investigation of Pishioneri.

Erik Gabliks, director of the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training, said it's his understanding that Pishioneri retired after reaching a settlement agreement with Lane County.

Gabliks said his department is reviewing Pishioneri's conduct, which probably will be discussed by the state agency's Corrections Policy Committee at its November meeting. If the panel finds that a serious breach of conduct occurred, the committee could recommend the state revoke Pishioneri's police certification.

Pishioneri previously served four years on the corrections policy committee, Gabliks said.

The DA's report makes it clear that after prosecutors reviewed the case, Pishioneri no longer could work for the sheriff's office in any capacity that might result in him being a witness to a crime and being called to testify in court.

Hasselman wrote that his office would place Pishioneri on its "Brady list," which consists of the names of officers who have been found to be untruthful.

The prosecutor said Pishioneri is not scheduled as a state witness in any pending case, but that any future investigations in which he could be called as a witness would be compromised by the finding that his explanations over the timecard and mileage "lack credibility when compared to the evidence and timing of his remedial efforts."

Hasselman noted that the DA's office would be required to disclose the investigation into Pishioneri to defense attorneys if the office ever filed a case in which Pishioneri was a potential witness.

"When a law enforcement agency disciplines an employee for untruthfulness, the district attorney is responsible for identifying and disclosing the dishonest conduct to the defendants in all criminal cases in which the employee may be called as a witness," Hasselman said Tuesday. "Sometimes the dishonesty is of such significance and severity, the district attorney will refuse to utilize that employee as a witness altogether."

How and if the situation will affect Pishioneri's ability to serve on Springfield's city council remains unclear. It's not known if Pishioneri's colleagues on the council have been aware of the investigation associated with his retirement as a deputy sheriff.

Springfield Mayor Christine Lundberg and council president Sean VanGordon did not return phone messages seeking comment on Pishioneri.

City spokesman Niel Laudati said he was authorized to say that the city cooperated with the Department of Justice during its investigation, and offered that it is not unusual for city councilors to travel in their own vehicles and receive a "stipend" for attending conferences related to their responsibilities on the council.

Pishioneri served on the council from 2005 to 2012. A Republican, he was defeated in a 2012 election for an Oregon House of Representatives seat won by Democrat John Lively.

Pishioneri won a 2014 election to return to the council for two more years, filling out the term of retiring councilor Bob Brew. He ran unopposed for reelection to a four-year term that began in January.

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Title Annotation:Springfield; The Lane County DA's Office concluded that Springfield City Councilor Joe Pishioneri probably committed theft
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jun 22, 2017
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