Montgomery accuses county police officer of fraud
Thursday, March 4, 2010
Montgomery County sued one of its police officers Wednesday, alleging that he defrauded the county of $400,800 while running a company that provided firearms training to officers.
Central to the officer's fraud, the county alleged, was that he enticed colleagues to take training classes by offering them deeply discounted weapons upon completion of the classes -- $99 for a handgun valued at several times that, for example. As for the training, that was free to the officers who enrolled because it was paid by the county's tuition assistance program.
The lawsuit said that it amounted to the officer using tuition assistance funds to subsidize the weapons, which one official has called "the candy" to get other officers enrolled in the training classes.
The officer, Aaron Bailey, declined to comment through his attorney, Charles Rand, who said he had not seen the lawsuit and would not comment until he does. It is unclear what their defense will be, but some officials have speculated that what Bailey did was akin to department stores offering "loss leader" merchandise, which they lose money on, simply to get shoppers in the door.
The lawsuit is the latest twist in the county's troubled tuition assistance program, which top officials have acknowledged was not properly monitored. In recent years, employees have used the program to take classes ranging from "Bible Doctrines" and "Aerobics" to "The Christian Home" and "Life on the Down Low."
Within the next week, Montgomery County's inspector general, Thomas J. Dagley, is expected to release the findings of his office's investigation into the tuition assistance program.
Montgomery union officials have said that managers have been too quick to blame employees whose requests to take classes were approved by superiors. On Wednesday night, Walter Bader, past president of the police union, said it was time for managers to "grow up and take responsibility for their actions."
"We did not have proper monitoring of the program," County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) said Wednesday. "That doesn't excuse what I consider to be clear abuses here. . . .The county has not received the value of what it paid for, and we think the county was defrauded."
County Council President Nancy Floreen (D-At Large) said she backed the county's lawsuit and effort to recoup its funds. "It was an abuse of the public trust for the operation to proceed as it did," Floreen said.
Government attorneys named two defendants in the lawsuit: Bailey and the company he helped run, Applied Sciences for Public Safety LLC. County officials said things such as books or equipment are not covered by tuition assistance. The county is seeking $408,000 in compensatory damages and $500,000 in punitive damages against Bailey.
More than 100 police officers participated in nine weapons or tactics classes, according to county officials. Some of the course names: "Police Shootout-Strategy, Tactics and Weaponology" and "Undercover Carry-Concealed Weapon."
In the lawsuit, county attorneys attached a marketing flier from the company. "Upon completion be eligible for: Glock 9mm, 40 SW or 45 ACP for only $99," it reads. "Tuition reimbursement paid by your agency."
County corrections department and sheriff's office employees also attended weapons classes, the suit states. Officials said it was possible that some employees participated in more than one class. The company also offered "Advanced Tactical Flashlight Training," and officers completing the course received a free tactical flashlight.
The courses lasted two days and typically cost $1,495, according to the lawsuit. Police officers have said the instructors have good reputations as firearms instructors.