WINK News investigation reveals time card issues at FMPD

Published: November 23, 2021 4:50 PM EST
Updated: November 23, 2021 10:41 PM EST

Police records show three officers lied about being on the clock and were recommended for termination, and yet they all kept their jobs.

Before he retired Brian O’Reilly was an internal affairs investigator for the Fort Myers Police Department.

He launched an investigation into officers Emily Hodakoski and Erik Flores and Det. Evelyn Roberts after an internal audit raised questions last year.

“I started to see things that were alarming and troubling as I went through,” O’Reilly said.

O’Reilly noticed inconsistencies in the hours worked versus the hours paid for the three officers.

He began digging through thousands of hours of timestamps to verify the officers logged overtime hours they hadn’t worked.

“It was shocking. I was flabbergasted at the volume of complete overtime shifts documented that employees did not work at all,” O’Reilly said.

By the end of the investigation, O’Reilly found the officers had misrepresented hundreds of hours of time on their time cards.

“There was a significant amount of issues with the timesheets ranging from minor issues … to claiming hours and entire shifts that weren’t worked,” O’Reilly said.

We presented the facts to Fort Myers Mayor Kevin Anderson, who worked 25 years with the department before retiring as a major.

“If you’re claiming time you didn’t work, and you’re accepting money for it, that is theft and it needs to be investigated as a theft. And if it occurred, then appropriate action needs to be taken,” Anderson said.

From 2018 to 2020, the investigation showed 172 total incidents.

Some involved 15 minutes, an hour or multiple hours.

There were also 38 shifts where officers got paid overtime and never showed up at all.

Internal affairs reports show all three officers responded to the timecard accusations, claiming they made mistakes or accidentally logged incorrect times.

“There were a lot of, I made a mistake, I forgot. I think at one point an employee said how do you know, maybe dispatch made a mistake,” O’Reilly said.

After reviewing the report, retired Major William Newhouse recommended termination for the three employees but instead, they all kept their jobs. That’s something Anderson said he’s never seen.

“I do not recall where a recommendation of termination was made and it wasn’t carried out. I don’t recall that,” Anderson said.

The three officers that O’Reilly found to have committed time theft that cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars each agreed to an 80-hour suspension while also having to pay back a portion of the money in addition to one year of probation.

“This does make it difficult to build or sustain trust,” Anderson said.

It also flies in the face of department precedent.

“The Chief had terminated past employees for less,” O’Reilly said.

A WINK News request revealed another former FMPD officer opted for “voluntary separation in lieu of termination” over a time card theft investigation in April of 2020. O’Reilly was also the investigating officer in that case.

“There were other officers that were fired for timesheet issues that were less egregious than this particular case,” O’Reilly said.

Former officers wonder if these issues were buried because time theft is widespread across the department.

“If this is occurring, it does lend the question: What else is happening that’s not appropriate,” Anderson said.

O’Reilly added, “There was supposed to be an additional audit for the timesheets to find out if this happened with other individuals.”

They’re also concerned timing could have played a role in the officers’ punishment.

The internal affairs investigation into the three officers was completed and reviewed in early January with termination recommended on Jan. 4.

Yet Chief Diggs did not take final action until April 14, more than three months later.

Prior WINK reporting shows Diggs was a final candidate for the chief job in Columbus, Ohio. He was also renegotiating a contract extension with Fort Myers at the time.

It was a bad time for the department and Diggs to receive negative publicity.

“It worries me that there could be other officers involved. And it worries me that the administration did not look deeper into this issue,”
O’Reilly said.

The Fort Myers Police Department told WINK News they have made changes since then.

They sent us a statement saying they purchased a new “time management” system that provides better accountability. They called the old system “outdated, inefficient and required officers to forecast their hours a week in advance. FMPD recognized that this system led to potential miscalculations.”

But for a department that has been under the microscope in recent years that included an audit from the Freeh Group and has been dealing with controversy in recent months, it begs the question of how the residents of Fort Myers trust the police department moving forward.

The best way to build trust with the community is to hold our officers accountable for their behavior and performance,” Anderson said.

“I think if the agency or the public knows the agency does the right thing for the right reasons, it’ll truly increase the trust in the community,” O’Reilly said.

The Fort Myers Police Department denied our request for an interview with Diggs and the three employees in this story.