The schemes seem ludicrously brazen.
Over a period of five years, Boston police officers routinely claimed to be working, prosecutors said, when building alarms showed facilities had been long empty. Records show officers regularly claimed to have worked eight-and-a-half-hour weekend shifts for jobs that lasted less than half that. In one instance, a longtime clerk repeatedly forged the signatures of at least three different supervisors, helping her collect some $30,000 in fraudulent overtime earnings, prosecutors said.
More brazen still, the officers pursued these alleged fraud schemes at the same time State Police troopers were being very publicly hauled into court for similar offenses, sparking public outcry and calls for police reform, as well as condemnation from the governor.
While the city’s attention has been tied up in the future of embattled Police Commissioner Dennis White and the past of former union president Patrick Rose, federal investigators have been unfurling evidence of a sprawling Boston police overtime fraud scheme, part of a prosecution that has been quietly — and steadily — widening in scope.
To date, 14 current or former Boston police employees, almost all from the evidence unit, have been charged with falsifying time sheets in order to collect more than $300,000 in fraudulent overtime. Six of those implicated are former supervisors, including a retired captain who oversaw the department’s evidence warehouse.
Investigators have more recently begun digging deeper into the past, examining potential abuses going as far back as 2015, and at least two officers, records show, are cooperating with the government in exchange for avoiding prosecution.
“Whenever there’s sort of a one-off scandal, [involving] one person, you can always say ‘bad apple,’ ” said Daniel Medwed, a professor of law and criminal justice at Northeastern University. “But when there’s widespread misconduct like this … it suggests a rotten tree, not a bad apple.”
The alleged fraud scheme has so far gained modest notice, but it has, by the numbers, surpassed the State Police overtime scandal that saw 10 troopers face a mix of federal and state criminal charges. In that case, prosecutors tallied at least $200,000 in alleged fraudulent overtime pay over a two-year span.
The emerging Boston police scandal represents the latest black eye to a department that has continually vowed to clamp down on overtime abuses within its ranks — to little effect. A majority of the alleged fraud occurred at the Boston police evidence warehouse in Hyde Park, an 18-employee facility tasked with guarding sensitive material and where security cameras and alarms track officers’ comings and goings.
Some experts say corruption within such a unit could pose legal issues that extend well beyond the officers charged.
“Any evidence that was involved during the time they were there has a taint to it,” said Dennis Galvin, a retired State Police major who now serves as president of the Massachusetts Association for Professional Law Enforcement. “Whether it actually does or it doesn’t, a defense attorney’s going to have a lot to throw at a jury.”
How exactly the federal probe began remains unclear — an FBI spokeswoman declined comment last week, citing the ongoing investigation. Former US attorney Andrew E. Lelling has credited the Boston police anti-corruption unit with assisting in the investigation.
Sergeant Detective John Boyle, the BPD’s spokesman, declined to comment for this story, citing the ongoing federal investigation.
In one of the first signs of trouble, a federal magistrate approved in February 2020 a search warrant for the seizure of cell phone location data from at least 15 Boston police officers.
Later last year, nine current and former evidence unit officers were arrested and charged by federal authorities with falsifying time sheets in order to collect more than $200,000 in unearned overtime pay over a three-year period. Authorities alleged that the officers were part of a scheme that included inflating the number of hours worked to collect fraudulent overtime pay totaling between $16,000 and $42,000 per person.
Of the original nine officers indicted, two — former officer James Carnes and officer Michael Murphy — have since pleaded guilty and two others — former sergeant Gerard O’Brien and officer Diana Lopez — have negotiated plea deals, court documents show.
The officers face up to 10 years in prison on charges including conspiracy to commit theft and embezzlement. Six retired in the 18 months leading up to their arrests, a move that allows them to start collecting pensions while the federal probe plays out. Another — lieutenant Timothy Torigian — resigned.
The two officers that remain with the department — Michael Murphy and Kendra Conway — are currently suspended, according to the agency.
Murphy pleaded guilty last week to one count of conspiracy to commit theft and one count of embezzlement. He is scheduled to be sentenced in October. Torigian and Conway have yet to enter pleas, according to court records.
Attorneys for the three either declined comment or didn’t respond to messages.
Since the slate of initial charges, three more evidence unit supervisors have been charged with similar crimes, including former captain Richard Evans, who ran the BPD Evidence Control Unit’s warehouse until retiring earlier this year. Evans, who has yet to enter a court plea, is accused of claiming $12,395 in overtime pay for hours he never worked and approving fraudulent time slips for subordinates between March 2015 and early 2019.
While officers in the evidence unit were running their alleged scheme, a longtime clerk in the District A-1 detectives unit allegedly ran a separate fraud.
Marilyn Golisano was charged in January with submitting dozens of fraudulent overtime slips that resulted in more than $29,000 of unearned overtime between 2017 and 2018. Her attorney declined comment.
The burgeoning scandal stems in part from a department culture in which overtime abuses have been allowed to go unchecked, says former Boston police lieutenant Tom Nolan.
“The police officers know at some level that it’s dishonest, but it’s not something that’s ordinarily sanctioned,” said Nolan, who now teaches at Emmanuel College. “And the evidence guys were almost certainly caught by surprise that this was a problem, let alone something that could be prosecuted.”
Publicly, the department has continually pledged to curtail such abuses.
A 2015 audit commissioned by then-mayor Martin J. Walsh revealed that there appeared to be few mechanisms in place to monitor overtime spending within the department and that officers were routinely being paid for time they didn’t work. Still, police overtime spending continued to grow over the next five years, from $61.6 million in 2015 to $77.7 million in 2019. The department recently told the City Council that overtime is expected to be $15 million over budget for the current fiscal year, which ends in late June.
In 2019, meanwhile, the department promoted Marcus Eddings to superintendent and tasked him with overseeing overtime and paid detail earnings. But it remains unclear what Eddings — who made roughly $275,000 last year — has accomplished in his more than two years in the role; in his first 14 months on the job, Eddings didn’t open a single investigation into overtime irregularities, a BPD spokesman acknowledged last year.
The department did not respond to questions about Eddings or his more recent work, but acknowledged Eddings was not involved in this ongoing federal overtime prosecution.
The BPD’s evidence unit, in particular, has been a repeated source of problems.
When then-BPD commissioner Ed Davis ordered an audit of the warehouse in 2006, for instance, 700 bags of drugs were found to be missing, while investigators discovered 265 instances where evidence envelopes were either opened or emptied; almost all of the drugs stolen were from closed cases, police said at the time, and no BPD employees were arrested or disciplined.
In 2018, the state attorney general’s office agreed to let former evidence unit officer Joseph Nee avoid jail time by pleading guilty to stealing $2,000 being held in evidence in a bank robbery case and attempting to launder it using gaming machines at the Plainridge Park Casino.
The department hadn’t fired Nee, so he bartered his job to seal a deal with a judge that would keep him out of jail and save his pension, the Globe reported last year. He receives taxpayer-funded pension checks, about $25,800 each year, for life.
On Friday, prosecutors unveiled new charges against Nee, announcing he had agreed to plead guilty in the new, still unfolding overtime fraud scandal. Nee acknowledged, prosecutors said, that he collected about $12,636 for overtime hours he did not work from 2015 through 2017.
Already, at least nine of the officers implicated in the evidence unit overtime scandal have been added to a database maintained by the Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins, flagging them as problem witnesses in court proceedings. Anthony Benedetti, chief counsel for the state’s public defenders office, said in statement that “if a police officer is dishonest in one case, it raises legitimate questions in their other cases.”
But even those not directly implicated in the scandal could be dogged by credibility questions during any potential court appearances.
“Who’s going to testify about evidence practices?” said Medwed, of Northeastern. “It has to be someone who’s not tainted by this scandal. And given how widespread the scandal is, can you fairly say that there is somebody who isn’t at all tainted?”
Dugan Arnett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.