Denver paid private eye to spy on four city employees
Rocky Mountain News
Denver, CO Colorado
DENVER, Colorado ” If you work for the city of Denver, Colorado, you may want to think twice about taking a long lunch and claiming on your timesheet that you were only away for an hour.
Not only is it dishonest, but a private investigator could be on your tail.
Earlier this year, the city hired a private eye to spy on four employees in the Department of Facilities Planning and Management.
The investigation revealed, among other findings, that the employees were allegedly submitting inaccurate daily activity logs that didn’t reflect their actual work or travel and that three of the four were taking long lunches, although in a couple of instances it was only by a few minutes.
The city paid about $8,500 for the surveillance work.
It’s not the first time the city has hired a private investigator to follow employees around.
In 2001, the Division of Excise and Licenses paid two private eyes to follow five business license inspectors over a two-month period.
Their investigation revealed that the inspectors were loafing on the job, from playing afternoon golf to hanging out at home or going to a Colorado Rockies game and submitting overtime for it.
All five were fired.
Richard Janowski, a private investigator who was part of both investigations, declined to discuss the more recent investigation.
But he said it’s uncommon for city or county governments to hire private investigators to spy on their employees. When they do, he said, it’s usually because a citizen called with a complaint.
“I think what happens is somebody, a civilian, will see something that they’re not happy with,” he said.
“They basically call the government agency and say, ‘Look, we’re letting you have the heads-up to take care of what we’re seeing or we’re going to call Paula Woodward,” Janowski said, referring to 9News investigative reporter Paula Woodward.
Sue Cobb, a city spokeswoman, said each city agency would have to be contacted to determine if they hire private investigators to spy on employees at work on a regular basis. But she said “this is not common practice” for Facilities Planning and Management.
“That said, whenever there are allegations of improprieties involving our employees, we explore them fully,” she said. “It’s our obligation to taxpayers and to city employees.”
Joe Dickerson, board chairman of the Professional Private Investigators Association of Colorado, said he’s never heard of a government agency hiring a private investigator to follow its employees.
But he said it’s better to hire a private investigator to conduct the surveillance instead of assigning the job to another government employee, such as a police officer or a sheriff’s deputy.
“When you’ve got one government employee investigating another government employee, there could be all kinds of potential conflicts,” he said. “It’s not an arms length transaction, in my opinion. You never know who knows who, particularly within the government because you’ve got career employees.”
It’s unclear what sparked the investigation of the Facilities Planning and Management workers.
Each of the four employees received a 20-day suspension for alleged improprieties.
The employees ” Ernest Compos, David S. Herrera, Gene Sandler and Richard J. Sena ” appealed their suspensions. After a three-day hearing, a Career Service hearing officer overturned Sandler’s suspension and ordered the department to modify the 20-day suspension of Compos, Herrera and Sena to a five-day suspension.
The employees’ attorney, Michael O’Malley, could not be reached for comment.
Sandler, who was accused to using his city-owned vehicle to do a personal errand at a candy store, was cleared of wrongdoing. Compos, Herrera and Sena admitted taking long lunches, but they denied that they intentionally falsified their daily activity logs.
“The evidence revealed that, in practice, the logs were used as a work in progress, supplemented by supervisors’ daily review and corrections,” Hearing Officer Valerie McNaughton wrote in her 22-page decision letter, which recently became public.
“Log entry practices varied widely among employees, with differing habits as to records of mileage, work codes, travel times, locations, and the nature of work,” she wrote.
The city filed an appeal Tuesday asking the Career Service Board to review McNaughton’s ruling, saying it excuses misconduct and misinterprets city rules.
“Any fair reading of the record demonstrates that the hearing officer ignored critical evidence, and created exculpatory evidence, to improperly excuse the (four employees) from their plain misconduct,” the appeal states.
If the board upholds McNaughton’s decision, back pay would be awarded to the four employees.