Massachusetts State Police Tried to Destroy Payroll Records During Fraud Investigations

Amid numerous ongoing investigations into overtime and payroll fraud, the Massachusetts State Police Department has tried several times in recent months to destroy more than a hundred boxes of payroll, attendance, and personnel documents that span decades, records show.

The department asked a state document retention board three times this year for its approval to destroy the files, including once in March, just days after the Globe revealed that payroll records for an entire 140-trooper unit had been kept hidden for years.

The Records Conservation Board tabled each State Police request, citing the records’ potential involvement in ongoing investigations, according to documents provided by the board. Each State Police request sought the destruction of the only existing copies of the records in question.

State Police spokesman David Procopio said in a statement Wednesday that “none of the records in question have been destroyed.”

“The recent requests made to the board are in compliance with the [secretary of state’s] retention schedule and the records, due to their age, are not currently the subject of any outside investigation or audit,” Procopio added.

He said payroll records will be retained “until further notice.” The request to destroy the records was first reported by Commonwealth Magazine on Tuesday.

The department is under widespread scrutiny amid a number of scandals. Federal and state prosecutors have used department records to charge eight current and former troopers in the ongoing overtime fraud scandal.

During a televised gubernatorial debate Tuesday night, Baker said overtime abuse at State Police “had been going on for a long time. There’s documentation and public records that show that this was going back before our administration even began.” He previously said the department would look back in time — beyond the two-year window of the current internal audit — if payroll problems continued to appear.

On Wednesday, Baker said the department’s actions didn’t appear to violate any rules but said officials shouldn’t have made the request “given everything else that’s going on with respect to State Police and payroll.”

“The simple truth of the matter is they shouldn’t be destroying any payroll records, and they won’t be,” Baker told reporters, according to a transcript provided by his office.

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jay Gonzalez slammed Baker’s leadership of the agency, saying, “It’s one scandal after another.”

Gonzalez called it an “attempted cover-up” and demanded an investigation by the state Inspector General’s office, which is launching an independent auditing unit to oversee the State Police. Gonzalez has previously called for State Police Colonel Kerry Gilpin to be fired and replaced by someone without ties to the department.

State agencies are forbidden to destroy records without the approval of the seven-member Records Conservation Board. State law requires agencies to keep records for a certain amount of time, which varies depending on the type of record. After the required retention period has passed, agencies can seek permission from the board.

The three forms submitted by State Police were signed by department officials — including one signed by its director of finance and another by its human resources director — and each attested that the records in question were not subject to any “pending or actual audit or investigation.”

In denying the State Police’s three requests, the Records Conversation Board cited pending investigations as the basis for keeping the files, documents show.

The timing of the State Police requests raises questions.

In March, Colonel Kerry Gilpin held a press conference accusing 20 troopers of fraudulently collecting overtime pay.

Days later, a Globe report revealed payroll records for an entire 140-trooper State Police division — including some of the department’s top earners — had been hidden for years, prompting sharp criticism and a vow from the notoriously secretive law enforcement agency to be more transparent.

Two days after the Globe report, the agency quietly filed the first of its requests to destroy documents.

The request sought permission to dispose of 115 banker boxes of time and attendance records covering 2010 and 2011, along with “bank and cash” and “billings and collections” records from 2009 through 2013, plus “routine accounting” records for 2001 through 2013.

In April, State Police filed a separate request to destroy 40 more banker boxes of records, a varied mix of personnel, payroll, and retiree records spanning numerous years, including time and attendance calendars from July 1994 through 2014.

The department’s ongoing internal audit into overtime fraud began with a review of payroll records from 2016. It finished that portion of its review over the summer and had moved on to reviewing 2015 records.

The third and most recent request to destroy 12 more boxes of records was filed last month. Those boxes contained payroll records from 2009 through 2012, including detail and roster assignments, for Troop F.

Troop F, which is funded by the Massachusetts Port Authority to patrol its properties including Logan International Airport in Boston and the city’s Seaport, came under fire in late March for hiding trooper pay records for years.

In 2017, State Police sought to destroy records just once. The board approved that request to dispose of state crime lab documents but noted it did not involve any records tied to the lab’s scandals in recent years.

The Records Conservation Board is chaired by a designee of Attorney General Maura Healey’s office, which has filed charges against three troopers — and has said to expect more — in the overtime fraud case.

A spokeswoman for Healey declined to comment citing the office’s ongoing criminal investigation.

Deirdre Cummings, legislative director of the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, a consumer advocacy nonprofit, called the State Police moves “somewhat suspicious.”

“We have no idea what the State Police were intending to do,” Cummings said. “I would hope they would be more transparent, given the sensitive nature of the material.”

She applauded the records board for denying the destruction request.

Kade Crockford, director of the Technology for Liberty Program at the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, also called for greater transparency.

“In ordinary circumstances, it’s perfectly reasonable to destroy government records in accordance with the requirements of state law,” Crockford said in a statement. “With respect to the State Police and payroll, these are not ordinary circumstances.”

Source: https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2018/10/10/state-police-tried-destroy-payroll-records-during-fraud-investigations/hrftAIz2BVAhBwJGt8z8lJ/story.html

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Filming Cops
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Filming Cops was started in 2010 as a conglomerative blogging service documenting police abuse. The aim isn’t to demonize the natural concept of security provision as such, but to highlight specific cases of State-monopolized police brutality that are otherwise ignored by traditional media outlets.

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