Things have gone from ugly to uglier at the Riverside Sheriff’s Association (RSA). This past summer, federal prosecutors filed a confidential document in Riverside County, California Superior Court indicating that the FBI and the Labor Department were conducting a joint investigation into the possibility that certain members of the RSA had embezzled money from its legal trust fund. The document inadvertently had been posted on the court Web site before being quickly removed. The latest plot twist came on Thursday, September 28, when armed FBI agents raided the association’s offices in Riverside, looking for clues in the disappearance of more than $100,000 from the union, which represents more than 2,500 deputies and other law enforcement and public safety personnel.
In 2005 a bitter dispute broke out between two men, current Association President Pat McNamara and a former employee, Scott Teutscher, who managed the association’s legal defense fund. Several sheriff’s offices had received unsigned fax messages bearing the heading, “Corruption Within the Sheriff’s Association.” According to court documents, the memo alleged that McNamara led an effort to embezzle funds to pay for attorney’s fees of a former deputy who at the time was facing criminal charges. McNamara countered with a defamation suit, accusing Teutscher of sending the anonymous faxes and making other statements that falsely accused him of embezzlement. This September, Teutscher filed a countersuit of his own against McNamara, other association employees, and the association itself.
Teutscher alleged that after he became the association’s legal operations manager in 2002 he noticed that McNamara and other members were diverting funds to Duane Winchell, described as a “personal friend” of McNamara. Winchell, a 15-year veteran deputy sheriff, had been fired in 2003 in the wake of accusations that he trespassed on and vandalized his estranged girlfriend’s property. He eventually pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor charges and was sentenced to two years probation. The faxes objected to the union paying for Winchell’s legal fees, since his illegal acts had occurred during off-duty hours.
Federal investigators want to know if trustees, officers or employees of the legal fund appropriated money for Winchell’s defense, aware that such disbursements could have violated benefit plan rules under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. RSA lawyer Michael Proctor argues that the association fund covers a wide range of circumstances, including those not directly related to employment duties. Both McNamara and Teutscher have denied wrongdoing. Teutscher additionally claims that an employee in his office falsely accused him of throwing a file at her just so the association would have a pretext to fire him – which it did in September 2005. Officials at the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office thus far have refused to discuss details of the investigation. (Los Angeles Times, Inland Empire Edition, 9/29/06).