Friday, July 18, 2008

Board treasurer stole from Houston police union coffers

Trust no one, I suppose, is the unhappy lesson arising from this unseemly debacle out of the powerful Houston Police Officers Union:

A retired Houston police officer and his former son-in-law were indicted Thursday on charges that they took money from the professional organization that once represented them both — the Houston Police Officers' Union.

Ronald Martin, 51, the union's former board secretary, and Houston police officer Jeff Larson, 39, are accused of stealing cash, cashing checks, using credit cards and pocketing profits from vehicle sales — all from the union's coffers, Harris County prosecutors said.

The indictments were a bitter blow to the organization, the sole bargaining agent with the city for all Houston police officers. ...

Martin and Larson were indicted on charges of misapplication of fiduciary property. Larson was also indicted on charges of theft by a public servant.

The two are accused of taking about $100,000 to $200,000 from union coffers from December 2004 to January 2008, according to Harris County District Attorney Ken Magidson.

A 31-year HPD veteran, Martin retired after he and Larson were relieved of duty in mid-January. Larson, who remains off-duty with pay pending the outcome of the investigation, has been with HPD for 16 years and was the union's treasurer.

Annual audits under the last union president didn't catch any discrepancies, reported the Houston Chronicle, but the first audit under the new president found HPOU's Treasurer stealing regularly:

The irregularities first came to light in November when HPOU conducted an internal review regarding the sale of union-owned vehicles by Martin and Larson. At the same time, Blankinship's election as the HPOU's president triggered a financial audit.

The audit identified financial breaches involving Martin and Larson, Blankinship said.

He said the union's financial state was in trouble when he took over at HPOU — which has about 4,850 dues-paying members.

Larson, as treasurer, was essentially free to disperse union funds as he saw fit, Blankinship said.

"They (former union leaders) could have done a better job at checks and balances," Blankinship said.

Former HPOU President Hans Marticiuc said the union's board members received a financial report each month.

"There was an outside audit every year. It came back that we were in fine shape," Marticiuc said. "I really think that it was a matter of trusting people."

Since taking over, Blankinship said the union hired certified public accountants to audit the books.

One questions the quality of the auditor who annually declared the books in "fine shape" over the last few years. Enron had auditors too, I suppose. In that sense, it's really still a matter of trust whether Houston police officers can believe their union leadership isn't stealing their dues. Changing auditors only helps as long as top leadership shoot straight with their accountants.

I was also unaware of another recent theft incident mentioned in the article:
The alleged theft is at least the second time that money from law enforcement ranks has come up missing this year.

In May, FBI agents said they were investigating the disappearance of more than $100,000 from the Houston Police Federal Credit Union.

That incident is still under investigation, said Donna Hawkins, a spokeswoman for the Harris County District Attorney's Office.

Meanwhile, Kuff lets us know that the Harris County Sheriff recently created a new inspector general position "to investigate abuses at the county jail." That makes me wonder what the feds turned up during their recent week-long inspection, and whether more Houston-area law enforcement scandals may be revealed soon.


Anonymous said...

C'mon folks, lets realize that HCPD and Sherriffs department is probably functioning in just about the same way Travis County Sherriffs and Austin PD is.

I remember a case a few years back where an Austin policeman went to a burgular alarm call at a woman's home. After the police left the site, that "peace officer" went back to the home and raped the woman (oral sex, I think) The woman saved evidence and he was indicted and convicted and the Austin Police Association spent big bucks on his legal defense and he stayed technically employed for a long time. I do not know how case came out and forgot the Hispanic name of the officer, but I got a hint of how corrupt the Police Officer Associations can be. This police officer already had a police record of his own when he was hired in Austin.

Financial corruption at police officer unions is only part of the corruption picture.

Anonymous said...

Read this

Anonymous said...

Thanks for nice article.

I worked 25 years for various Texas state agencies. At my last post, we had someone from the Texas Ethics Commission come in and give us a quick ethics class.

It was kind of a joke. Texas Ethics Commission does not real deal with or promote ethics. Just another corrupt state agency.

According to that article, I should not be allowed a voice because I am negative and cynical.

I tried all my working life to be honest and speak up and stand up for what is right. That is why I never "got to the top."

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:51 what is HCPD?

Anonymous said...

My errors. HCPD was meant to be Houston PD and HCSD I guess is Harris County Sherriffs Department.