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Troopers with bogus degrees won’t be charged

Mon., Feb. 2, 2009, 5:06 p.m.

Human Resources OK’d degrees for pay raises

OLYMPIA – No criminal charges will be filed against 10 Washington State Patrol troopers who used phony college diplomas to obtain higher pay. All, however, have repaid the extra money they were given.

A review by the Thurston County Prosecutor’s Office concluded there was insufficient evidence to show that the troopers knew the diplomas were from institutions that lacked accreditation, Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jon Tunheim said Monday.

It appears all of the troopers, including two from Eastern Washington, relied on the State Patrol’s human resources department to determine whether the degree would qualify them for higher pay. The 10 troopers requested that their higher incentive pay be discontinued, Tunheim said.

The troopers paid back a total of $50,852.46, said Washington State Patrol Capt. Jeff DeVere.

In October 2008, DeVere identified nine troopers under investigation: Trooper Daniel Mann of the Spokane office; Trooper John McMillan of Ephrata; a trooper in Seattle; two sergeants and two troopers in Vancouver.; a pair of troopers in Wenatchee; and a sergeant in Kelso.

The next month, DeVere said the investigation revealed a 10th trooper had an unaccredited degree.

A memo released Monday by Tunheim states, “To prove a criminal charge in this case, this office would need sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that these troopers knew that the diplomas were not properly accredited and/or that they intended to deceive or defraud the WSP.”

Tunheim’s memo continues, “While it may be argued that obtaining these degrees and having them accepted for educational incentive pay increases should have seemed ‘too good to be true,’ that alone, in our opinion, does not sufficiently prove the criminal mental state beyond a reasonable doubt that is necessary for a criminal prosecution. Therefore, we do not believe that a jury would find any of these troopers guilty of any criminal conduct.”

As part of the patrol’s union contract, troopers can obtain a 4 percent pay increase for a bachelor’s degree, and a 2 percent increase for a two-year or a master’s degree.

DeVere said with the conclusion of the criminal investigation, the agency will begin an internal investigation.

“The information we gather is different because we are looking at whether they violated any (State Patrol) policy,” DeVere said.

This case is considered the highest level of importance because there are integrity issues involved, he said. A determination that there were intentions to deceive could result in the troopers being fired, DeVere said.

Tunheim said his office’s investigation was fair. He added that the State Patrol detectives who investigated the matter made no recommendation on whether a charge should be filed or not.

“We don’t really have any interest in whether these troopers are prosecuted or not,” he said. “We’ve made our determination based on the investigative reports. We’re not going to charge state troopers or anybody else when the evidence doesn’t support it.”

Federal convictions of operators of a Spokane diploma mill led the WSP to take a closer look at the authenticity of degrees qualifying many of its 1,200 commissioned personnel for higher salaries, DeVere said in October. None of the nine troopers initially identified appeared on a list of the mill’s customers that was obtained by The Spokesman-Review.

Spokesman-Review staff writer Jody Lawrence-Turner contributed to this report.

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