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9/15/2008
DC Cop Busted in Photo Radar Fraud
Washington, DC police officer embezzles money from speed camera program. Similar accounting practices used in Sarasota County, Florida program.

US Attorney Jeffrey A Taylor
A former Washington, DC Metropolitan Police Department officer admitted Friday to embezzling $178,611.87 from the city's lucrative speed camera program. Karin Coppens, 49, falsified time sheets that claimed she had spent 3400 hours on photo radar duty between August 2004 and June 2008, either reviewing citations or sitting in a car while the vendor-owned vehicle generated automated tickets. The department pays a fifty-percent overtime salary bonus to employees performing these low-effort tasks.

Coppens never actually worked this detail. Instead, she forged her supervisor's signature on 94 time sheets allowing her to boost her annual salary by about $45,000. An audit and internal affairs investigation caught the discrepancy and as a result Coppens now faces up to 18 months in jail and a fine of $30,000. She will be sentenced in the US District Court for the District of Columbia on December 19.

A statement from US Attorney Jeffrey A. Taylor called this "one of the largest time and attendance fraud cases in the history of the department." But the District's photo enforcement program is not the only one where accounting tricks have been discovered. In Sarasota County, Florida, for example, officials plan to charge the full salaries of a pair of county sheriff's office deputies, a total of $220,000, to the forthcoming red light camera program for work that will not be performed. By doing so, the county will shift nearly a quarter-million dollars off the books, reducing the reported level of profit for the program. This, in turn, allows officials to more easily claim that profit is not a motivation behind the photo ticketing system. The charge for the deputies became an issue at an August 26 meeting of the board of commissioners.

"This isn't a full time job," one commissioner pointed out. "He's going to sit there and look at this website waiting for a picture to come across so he can say yes or no? I mean give me a break. He could take one morning a week and do it."

Defending the estimates, Public Works Executive Director Jim Harriott said they reflected "worst case numbers" and suggested the commission should wait to see how the assumptions hold up in practice. Harriott grudgingly admitted under questioning that a single city employee verified citations during a test run of the cameras.

"It certainly didn't take him all day every day and there certainly weren't two of them," Harriott admitted.

The county kept the revenue estimates which have been repeated by local media.



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