TO US DISTRICT JUDGE MARK L. WOLF, federal prosecutors involved in the Massachusetts State Police overtime fraud scandal may not be looking at every legal penalty possible.
During a sentencing hearing for retired trooper Daren DeJong on Thursday, Wolf said that the fraud scandal could amount to “a conspiracy” — and he says it could have been going on for more than 10 years. Proving that could be difficult, as state police records prior to 2015 have been destroyed. Prosecutors did allow that their investigation was “constrained” by the practice of destroying records after three years.
Wolf delayed sentencing of DeJong, citing a need for more information. One other possible cause for delay was DeJong’s admission that he is cooperating with an investigation being run by Attorney General Maura Healey.
Wolf said his conspiracy theory may be worth exploring because there was “a kind of interdependence … among troopers” involved in the case, suggesting they were in cahoots to conceal the overtime abuse. “Any one of them could’ve blown the whistle,” Wolf said at the federal courthouse in Boston. “It now appears this case may involve an uncharged conspiracy or RICO conspiracy.”
If a conspiracy charge were added, DeJong could face 21 to 27 months in prison, as opposed to the six months prosecutors are currently pushing for under his embezzlement charge.
The overtime abuse took place between 2015 and 2016 within the now-defunct Troop E, and was investigated internally by state police beginning in 2017. DeJong, who plead guilty to embezzlement, is among 46 troopers allegedly tied up in the scandal, which centered around skipping or leaving overtime shifts early early and creating fake traffic citations for periods when officers were not working. In DeJong’s case, that meant he was paid $14,062 for hours he didn’t actually work back in 2016, the only year prosecutors are focusing on.
If the troopers were to face charges under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, they would face similar penalties to Mafia and organized crime organizations. Enforcement agencies could charge acts of racketeering as a group, not just one crime at a time.
Wolf thinks it’s worth checking out, given that DeJong told state investigators he received a text from a trooper that said “they would not be writing citations that day and that he should go home and be with his family.”
Assistant US Attorney Dustin Chao discounted the conspiracy theory, saying troopers used “different ways to submit fraudulent tickets,” according to the Boston Globe.
DeJong’s attorney, R. Bradford Bailey, also dismissed Wolf’s conspiracy theory. “There was no agreement how to do this, there was no teaching how to do this,” he said.