No one is above the law, Sheriff Lee Baca said on Thursday. Not even the sheriff’s deputy suspected of skimming nearly $500,000 worth of La Puente’s towing fees.
The deputy, Sgt. Joe Dyer, retired in May when he was suspected of taking the money.
Chatila reports that former La Puente City Manager Carol Cowley was the first one to notice the discrepancies, and an investigation followed in January. Cowley recently retired from her position as La Puente city manager.
Sheriff deputy suspected in theft of $500k of city’s towing fees
By Tania Chatila, Staff Writer
Article Launched: 10/16/2008 11:59:21 PM PDT
LOS ANGELES – A sheriff’s deputy is suspected of embezzling nearly half a million dollars in towing fees from the city of La Puente, officials said Thursday.
Sheriff Lee Baca said the department’s Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau is investigating allegations that former traffic Sgt. Joe Dyer stole nearly $500,000.
“My belief is that no one is above the law and I think that the criminal justice system will act appropriately in this case,” Baca said Thursday.
Dyer, who could not be reached for comment, retired in May after detectives “established a need for an investigation regarding funds at the Industry Station that were missing,” Baca said.
Dyer’s supervisor, Capt. Michael Smith, was reassigned to the sheriff’s headquarters in Monterey Park effective Sunday, officials said.
Baca said the reassignment had nothing to do with the investigation. He also said he did not believe any other sheriff’s deputies were involved.
The District Attorney is aware of the case, Baca said. He expected it would be submitted for review by the end of the year.
“We’ve done as much as we can to build a good strong case,” Baca said.
The investigation was launched in January.
John Stites, president of the Los Angeles County Professional Peace Officers Association, the union that represents Dyer, said higher-ups in the department bear responsibility for the missing money if the allegations turn out to be true.
“We’re not accountants; we’re not money men,” Stites said. “Often times they put us in positions we are not trained to handle and it ends up going bad. I’ve seen it happen more than once.”
La Puente contracts with Haddick’s Towing for tow services. The city is supposed to receive $168 in administrative fees every time a car is impounded, said Laurie Marshall, who together with her sister, Bonnie Welch, owns and runs Haddick’s.
The fees are paid to the sheriff’s Industry Station, which issues a receipt that the driver must provide to reclaim his or her vehicle at La Puente-based Haddick’s, Marshall said. The driver then pays a separate fee to Haddick’s and the car is released.
Dyer dropped off the administrative fees and receipts at City Hall, where staff members reconciled the fees with the receipts Dyer provided, La Puente City Councilwoman Lola Storing said.
“Apparently, he wasn’t giving all the money or all of the receipts,” Storing said.
City officials never compared their receipts with Haddick’s, Storing said.
“Our tally matched out what we should have had,” Storing said. “It just didn’t jibe (with Haddick’s records).”
Storing believed former City Manager Carol Cowley was the first person at City Hall to notice the discrepancies.
Cowley declined to comment Thursday.
At a 2007 City Council meeting, Cowley noted the city anticipated receiving about $90,000 in towing fees for fiscal year 2006-07.
Marshall said Welch was at the meeting and questioned the figure.
“Once the information came out … Bonnie knew it was not accurate information and she called Carol,” Marshall said.
At that time, Haddick’s officials estimated La Puente should have received $160,000 in towing fees for fiscal year 2006-07.
Welch could not be reached for comment Thursday as she is vacationing in Mexico.
Marshall said sheriff’s investigators have asked the towing company for financial records, which Haddick’s provided.
Haddick’s also furnishes tow services in Industry, but collects administrative fees directly. Those figures are reconciled by Industry officials monthly, Marshall said.
Baca said the investigation did not involve anyone in La Puente City Hall or other cities.
City Attorney James Casso and Councilman Dan Holloway declined to comment on Thursday.
Councilman Louie Lujan said he was aware of “a matter,” but would not divulge details, citing state open meeting laws.
Councilman John Solis and Councilwoman Nadia Mendoza could not be reached for comment.
Baca said other deputies have been investigated in the past for embezzling money. But, he said, the problem is not rampant within the department.
Storing said the city is entitled to get its money back from the county. Baca said he didn’t know of any plans to reimburse La Puente.
“I don’t think the city has made any indication they expect the county or the sheriff’s department to provide that money,” he said. “We’re investigating a crime.”
Staff Writers Frank Pine, Frank C. Girardot, Ben Baeder and Ruby Gonzales contributed to this story.
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