Update: California judge dismisses fraud charges against 48 CHP officers in alleged OT scheme

CHP

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge dismissed felony wage theft and fraud charges against 48 California Highway Patrol officers on Thursday after the officers agreed to pay restitution, according to the Attorney General’s Office.

The dismissals ended most of the high-profile criminal cases Attorney General Rob Bonta filed in February against 54 CHP officers stationed in East Los Angeles, who were accused of fraudulently obtaining pay for unworked overtime on Caltrans protective details in the area.

Judge Ronald Coen offered all 54 of the officers a deal on Nov. 2: He would reduce their felonies to misdemeanors and then dismiss them if the officers agreed to pay the money the CHP accused them of improperly receiving. The deal did not require the officers to admit guilt.

Fifty-two officers took the deal, and 48 of them had satisfied its conditions in time for the charges to be dismissed Thursday, according to the Attorney General’s Office. Two rejected the deal, and a preliminary hearing will be scheduled for them in February, according to the Attorney General’s Office.

“Over our objection, the judge offered to reduce the felonies and allow the officers to complete a misdemeanor diversion program by paying restitution,” a press officer said in an email.

The felony charges stemmed from an extensive CHP investigation into overtime pay at the East Los Angeles station.

It was a common practice among officers at the station to work just two or three hours of late-night overtime at Caltrans work sites in the area and then fill out time cards claiming they had worked full shifts of eight hours or more.

The CHP announced in 2019 that it had identified about $360,000 in fraudulent overtime pay at the station through an investigation begun a year earlier. Chief Mark Garrett called the station’s overtime practices “abhorrent” and anomalistic among the department’s 103 offices around the state.

The department fired at least 33 officers and disciplined others. Attorney General Rob Bonta filed the criminal charges against 54 in February, alleging they had fraudulently obtained about $267,000.

The department did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

In administrative and legal defenses, the officers accused commanding officers of undertaking the investigation to retaliate against them for a labor grievance.

They said they were following a 2012 written policy and an established standard of past practice with their overtime reporting. They pointed out Caltrans supervisors had approved the time sheets, and attorneys made the case that superior officers had engaged in the same practices themselves.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated and corrected with new information from the Attorney General’s Office.