Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Phoenix ex-officer Contreras sees fraud charges renewed

A one-time Phoenix police officer has been indicted for the second time in a year on fraud and racketeering charges.

A Maricopa County grand jury indicted former patrolman George Contreras on three counts of fraud and illegal control of an enterprise after investigators presented evidence suggesting Contreras and his employees were paid for hours of off-duty security work that they did not perform.

Contreras was originally indicted with three other Phoenix officers in 2010 on similar charges, but the case was sent back to a grand jury in July after a judge determined that testimony presented to the grand jury could have violated the officers' due-process rights.

Contreras was the only officer to be reindicted. Prosecutors dismissed charges against his former co-defendants, Steven Paul Peck, Benjamin Hugh Sywarungsymun and Aaron Lentz.

The new indictment alleges that Contreras committed fraud and operated an illegal enterprise by receiving payment from condominium complexes for security work that Contreras and his employees never performed.

Contreras' attorney, Cary Lackey, said that any wrongdoing on the part of his client was an oversight and that Contreras was the victim of a "witch hunt" orchestrated by Phoenix police administrators who disliked the former patrolman.

The new indictment handed up last week eliminates four theft counts that targeted the other three officers. Their charges were dismissed on Friday.

Lackey said state prosecutors cut deals with the other three officers in exchange for testimony against Contreras, but he said he was not concerned about what their testimony might reveal.

"There was really not a whole lot they could say that was that damaging anyway," Lackey said. "I don't hold it against them or any of their attorneys for what they did."

The case centers on whether Contreras and employees of his company, Raptor Services, performed security work they were paid for from 2005 through 2007 at a townhouse complex near 48th Street and Broadway Road.

The criminal case grew out of a three-year police administrative investigation that reviewed the work of nearly 30 officers, including 15 from the South Mountain Precinct where Contreras worked.

A spokeswoman for Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne said the Phoenix Police Department will use administrative investigations to handle any remaining issues with the three officers whose charges were dismissed.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Karen O'Connor's July order sending the case back to a grand jury included instructions that state prosecutors had to tell the jurors a number of facts:

That there were no written agreements in place between the officers and the homeowners associations.

That none of the HOAs involved had documentation showing any financial loss.

That Contreras' business did not coordinate payments to the officers that came directly from the HOAs.

Lackey said the absence of Police Department guidelines prohibiting Contreras' business and the lack of any victims from the townhouses will continue to play a role in his defense, in addition to ensuring that prosecutors heed O'Connor's instructions about grand-jury testimony.

"I plan to go over that (grand jury) transcript with a fine-tooth comb and hold the state's feet to the fire," Lackey said. "We have an attorney general willing to sign off on this investigation on a 5-year-old overbilling of a condo complex when they can't even get their victims straight. There was no intent. They have to prove he intentionally or knowingly stole something from somebody."

http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/2011/11/22/20111122phoenix-ex-officer-contreras-sees-fraud-charges-renewed.html

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