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Criminal Justice

Overtime Fraud Charges Filed Against 54 East LA CHP Officers. Attorney For Officers Calls Prosecutors 'Flat Wrong'

A Ford SUV patrol car with lights on top, and it reads Highway Patrol under the rear window.
A CHP patrol vehicle drives on an L.A. freeway.
(Photo by Chris Yarzab via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr)
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The state of California has filed criminal charges against 54 current and former CHP officers who currently or once worked at the department's East L.A. Station, allegations an attorney for many of the officers called "flat wrong."

Those charged allegedly engaged in a “multiyear overtime fraud scheme” that involved exaggerating the number of hours they worked protecting Caltrans crews on East L.A. freeways, according to a news release issued late Thursday by Attorney General Rob Bonta.

The officers and former officers face a total of 302 counts, including charges of grand theft, according to a statement from the Attorney General’s office. The total amount of allegedly fraudulent overtime hours amounted to $226,556, the complaint states.

The statement said the fraud occurred over a 27-month period from 2016 to 2018.

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“Trust is a critical part of successful law enforcement,” Bonta said. “These defendants disregarded the law through their alleged actions and did so without thought of how their conduct would impact the California Highway Patrol or the community that trusted them to protect and serve.”

Response From Defendants' Attorney

Steve Cooley, a former L.A. County District Attorney, has been representing a number of those officers.

"When it comes to the alleged overtime scheme, Attorney General Bonta is flat wrong,” Cooley said Friday. "Almost all of them are totally innocent."

Cooley contends it was a longstanding practice for officers to sign up to be on call for Caltrans for a certain number of hours, end up not working all those hours and still get that pay. That practice, Cooley said, was in writing and he says both Caltrans and CHP management knew about it.

According to Cooley, CHP officials launched their investigation because East L.A. officers had filed a grievance about a cutback in overtime hours.

“CHP wanted to show them a lesson," Cooley said. "'Guess who’s in charge boys? Do not file a grievance against management because we will [expletive] with you'.”

Cooley said almost all of the 54 officers have been terminated or retired.

CHP officials would not comment on who is still employed, but said anyone still on staff has placed on administrative time-off and had their peace officer status removed.

What We Know About The Individual Officers

The average amount of alleged fraud committed was about $4,200 but the specific allegations vary from a high of more than $21,000 to a low of $951, just one dollar over the threshold for a felony.

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Almost all of these officers were at least 40 years old and well into their careers when they allegedly committed their crimes.

Overtime is a significant source of income for CHP officers, some of whom double their base pay and earn more than $100,000 in overtime pay, according to public salary data.

A Long Investigation

In a 2019 report by LAist on the investigation into the fraud, allegations first reported by us, then-CHP Division Chief Mark Garrett said there was a “culture of corruption by a group of greedy officers” at the East L.A. Station.

Bonta’s office filed the charges earlier this month. The defendants were booked by L.A. County Sheriff’s deputies over Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of this week. They’ll be arraigned and enter pleas next month, according to the statement from the AG’s office.

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