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Grand jury ends police probe.

Byline: Jay Whearley; Scott J. Croteau

WORCESTER - A grand jury has concluded its investigation into allegations raised in 2008 by Police Chief Gary J. Gemme that several city police officers fraudulently manipulated their work schedules to earn overtime while testifying in court.

The state attorney general's office, which presented the case to a grand jury seated in Worcester, has not released details on the outcome of the probe. Several sources familiar with the case said the investigation's findings likely will not be released until after Tuesday's special U.S. Senate election in Massachusetts, in which state Attorney General Martha M. Coakley is the Democratic candidate.

One of the principals in the overtime probe, former Police Lt. Timothy J. O'Connor, told the Telegram & Gazette last night that he was informed Tuesday that the investigation was finished. That scenario was confirmed by two independent sources who said they still are awaiting word from the attorney general's office on the disposition of the investigation.

Grand juries are presented with information about potential criminal cases and have the ability to either return criminal indictments or determine that there is no, or insufficient, evidence to indict, called a no bill.

A T&G reporter yesterday submitted a request to Chief Gemme for comment on the grand jury's possible return of no bills in the overtime case. Police Department spokesman Sgt. Kerry F. Hazelhurst issued this response:

"In November of 2008 the Worcester Police Department presented information to the Office of Attorney General Martha Coakley regarding inappropriate overtime compensation paid to a limited number of police personnel. ... The Attorney General's Office has not provided any additional information to the Worcester Police Department regarding this investigation.

"In prior discussions and communications with the Attorney General's Office it has been the position of the police department that the overtime abuse matter was satisfactorily resolved through administrative action," the statement continued. "This includes the resignations of certain personnel, the payment of restitution by others, and the development and implementation of management systems to prevent abuse. In some cases the actions of police personnel were mitigated by the facts uncovered in the investigation.

"It is our hope that the administrative action taken by the Worcester Police Department satisfactorily resolves this matter in the eyes of the public and the special grand jury."

The T&G reported in July 2008 that seven city police officers had been reassigned during an internal investigation into alleged overtime abuses. The officers subsequently were identified as Lt. O'Connor; Sgts. Faith A. Roche, Eric A. Boss and Michael J. Coakley; and Officers Paul W. Noone Jr., Darnell McGee and James M. O'Rourke.

An audit conducted at the time concluded that the seven may have been responsible for a total of $80,000 to $100,000 in improper court overtime payments in the first six months of 2008.

Sgt. Coakley, who worked in the Alcohol Enforcement Unit, resigned shortly after the investigation became public

Former Lt. O'Connor said last night he is confident that he and officers he served with on the Vice Squad -Sgt Boss and Officers Noone, McGee and O'Rourke will be vindicated by the grand jury. He also adamantly challenged the suggestion in the Police Department press release issued yesterday that he had resigned from the force.

"I retired on disability, pure and simple, not for any reason remotely connected with any overtime investigation," he said. Mr. O'Connor supplied medical and city personnel records confirming he retired early last year because of a heart problem.

The former lieutenant also insisted that he left the department without paying any restitution.

Sgt. Donald Cummings, president of the officers' union that represented the former lieutenant, confirmed last night that Mr. O'Connor retired after 25 years service on the force and that he did not pay any restitution to the city or the department.

"Why would I pay a dime?" Mr. O'Connor asked. "There was this misperception that myself and the others were paid for work we didn't perform. The truth is that we were paid for work we did, but out of another fund."

Several city police officers have said that it wasn't until July 2008 - the same time Chief Gemme disclosed the internal overtime investigation - that the chief issued a policy notice stating that "no officer or official shall be allowed to manipulate their work schedule in order to take advantage of an overtime opportunity."

Officers maintain the practice of taking a vacation day or other justifiable time off on a scheduled court appearance day, then putting in for time-and-a-half pay for the appearance time is longstanding, and was particularly prevalent among officers working narcotics cases.

In an earlier interview, former Police Chief Edward P. Gardella said the practice was used by officers during his tenure as chief, from 1991 to 2000, and that he was certain it dated back even further than that.

Contact Jay Whearley at jwhearley@telegram.com. Contact Scott J. Croteau at scroteau@telegram.com

ART: CHART

CUTLINE: Court overtime investigation timeline

PHOTOG: T&G Staff
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jan 14, 2010
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