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Special prosecutor reviewing the case

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WORCESTER- The investigation into alleged abuse of court overtime payment in the Police Department is now being handled by a special prosecutor from the state Attorney General's office.

The prosecutor is evaluating all the information in the case and investigators from Worcester police are working with her, Police Chief Gary J. Gemme confirmed yesterday.

Some of the information has been handed over to the prosecutor and more information is being gathered.

Earlier this year, an internal audit of the Police Department's payroll found that seven officers allegedly abused the system to the tune of $80,000 to $100,000 between them for the first six months of 2008.

The audit led to the seven officers being placed under investigation, both internally and now through the Attorney General's office. Sgt. Michael J. Coakley resigned shortly after the investigation began and Lt. Timothy O' Connor is on paid administrative leave. Sgts. Faith A. Roche and Eric A. Boss, along with Officers James M. O'Rourke, Paul W. Noone and Darnell McGee, are all part of the investigation and were transferred out of their units while under investigation. Their work status is unchanged.

Chief Gemme has routinely declined to comment on how many officers are involved or to identify them by name, citing a need to protect the integrity of the investigation and noting that the cases of abuse are in varying degrees.

The officers are accused of manipulating schedules, abusing vacation time and what's been termed other "serious abuse" of court overtime procedures. In some cases, officials are questioning if some of the officers actually attended court on the days claims for payment were filed. Court slips required to be signed by the Police Department's court liaison office were in the administrative system, although they lacked the required signatures.

"The special prosecutor will handle it if someone is indicted," Chief Gemme said. "They're looking at records and they reserve the right to conduct a forensic audit."

The chief said he shared his perspective on the case with the prosecutor. The prosecutor will decide if any of the cases could be handled administratively, the chief said.

"I will support the decision the prosecutor makes," he said. "I want to make sure the Police Department and the public are satisfied that a thorough investigation was conducted and there was a fair disposition and we can all move forward knowing we tightened the controls on the whole court overtime system."

One of the cases has been concluded through the department's administration and the internal case is now being reviewed by an outside lawyer. It will then be presented to the city manager. Chief Gemme could not comment on which internal case had been concluded.

City Manager Michael V. O'Brien said he could not comment on the ongoing investigation. He said everyone is subject to due process and "the fact that all of us are equal under the law and accountable to the law."

The department put in place several policies and procedures aimed at preventing court overtime pay abuse.

Officers attending court would sign in and out with the department's court liaison office - located in the courthouse - and receive a signed slip confirming the appearance.

The slip was taken to the officer's division lieutenant, who entered it in the administrative system for payment.

All court overtime slips go to the chief's office now, along with the roster of all officers attending court. The information is reviewed on a weekly basis and verified.

Since the new policies have been put in place, Chief Gemme said, the department is saving roughly $8,000 a week in court overtime payment and the yearlong savings is projected at $300,000.
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