10:00 PM PST on Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Cassie MacDuff

Charges that officials have stolen public funds are not new to San Bernardino County.

The former assessor and four top aides were charged in a corruption scandal that broke in 2008. One has been convicted, one signed a plea bargain, three await trial.

But the latest indictments, announced by San Bernardino County DA Mike Ramos and Sheriff Rod Hoops on Tuesday, are a source of particular outrage.

The defendants include five current and former law enforcement officers.

The very people empowered to enforce the law are accused of breaking it, defrauding the taxpayers of thousands of dollars.

The alleged criminals are a retired assistant sheriff, a captain who retired as the investigation began in November 2009, two lieutenants — one retired, one still employed — and a corporal.

Two clerical workers are accused of aiding and abetting them in faking advanced training certificates that increased the men’s pay.

The charges include grand theft, conspiracy and perjury by falsifying documents to show the officers attended courses they didn’t actually take.

The pay increases — as much as 8 percent of each salary — are not the only way the public was cheated.

It also lost out on the skills these officers were supposed to learn in courses such as Hate and Bias Crimes, Child Abuse, Officer Survival and Verbal Judo.

Deputy DA Dan Silverman, the prosecutor on the case, said he can’t quantify how much money was fraudulently obtained. That will take forensic accounting: reviewing of years of records and calculating the amounts of the undeserved raises and pension spikes.

Ramos and Hoops vowed to recover as much taxpayer money as possible.

Silverman hopes to do it through the courts, with judges ordering restitution if and when the defendants are convicted. (In the assessor case, the county has sued the defendants to recover their ill-gotten gains.)

When I talked to Hoops after the news conference, he said he’s angry and disappointed. He acknowledged that the allegations will undermine public confidence in his department.

The door was opened to fraud in the classes because roll wasn’t taken, and clerks were allowed to fill out certificates after the fact.

I asked Hoops what measures have been put in place to make sure such fraud can never happen again. He had Deputy Chief Sheree Stewart, who oversees the training academy, answer.

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