Sometimes rumor doesn’t translate into fact – at least the kind that can be prosecuted. That’s apparently true at the Riverside (Calif.) Sheriff’s Association. This past September, FBI agents raided the association office, looking for evidence of potential misuse of more than $100,000 in funds intended to cover attorney’s fees for a previously fired sheriff’s deputy. The feds had acted on unsigned fax messages bearing the heading, “Corruption Within the Sheriff’s Association,” the result of a bitter feud between the current association president and a terminated employee who’d managed its legal defense fund. Last summer, federal prosecutors filed a confidential document in Riverside County Superior Court indicating the FBI and the Labor Department were conducting a joint investigation. The results are now in: There’s nothing to investigate.
The inquiry, which lasted at least a full year, was triggered when anonymous faxes showed up at sheriff’s stations throughout Riverside County alleging embezzlement and other corruption at the union, which represents more than 3,000 deputies and other law-enforcement personnel. The faxes, by all accounts, had been sent by a former employee, Scott Teutscher, who until his dismissal had managed the association’s legal fund. The messages alleged that the union, with the approval of President Pat McNamara, illegally covered legal expenses of an ex-deputy sheriff, Duane Evan Winchell, who had pleaded no contest in 2004 to a pair of misdemeanors in connection with trespassing upon and vandalizing the property of an ex-girlfriend. The faxes claimed the union should not have paid for Winchell’s fees because his conduct had occurred off duty.
After reviewing the evidence, however, the Justice Department concluded the conduct of the union was not illegal, though not entirely shutting the door to further investigation either. Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas O’Brien issued a brief letter saying the probe is over, but the office still reserves the right to reopen it. Attorneys for the union and the Legal Defense Trust, however, are declaring unconditional victory. “This is about as great of a letter as you will ever get from the federal government,” said Michael J. Proctor, a defense fund attorney. “On a scale of 1 to 10, this is a 10 in exoneration.” That’s probably true, but the union likely will have to be more careful about how it uses money to help its own. (Riverside Press Enterprise, 12/22/06).