Second Plea Bargain Resolution In Falsified POST Training Class Certification Case

(September 6) The former San Bernardino County sheriff’s employee at the center of the training fraud case that rocked the department when charges were filed against several midlevel and high ranking members of the department two-and-a-half years ago accepted a plea agreement last week.
Angela Gray, a custody specialist and the wife of a former sheriff’s captain, Bart Gray, who was also charged in the training fraud case and against whom charges are yet standing, entered a plea to a reduced misdemeanor charge in the case on August 28. Two felony charges of grand theft and conspiracy she had previously faced were dismissed. Under the terms of the plea agreement, she will not be required to serve jail time.
Angela Gray entered a guilty plea to a single misdemeanor charge of aiding in a crime and was sentenced to 16 months probation and ordered to pay a $1,885 fine.
In September 2009, insinuations of fraud, theft by false pretenses and unjust enrichment cropped up against Hobart Gray, more commonly known as Bart Gray, who was the commander of the Yucaipa sheriff’s station, and approximately 25 other members of the department. Eighteen months later, in March 2011 indictments were handed down naming former assistant sheriff Mike Stodelle; captain Bart Gray; lieutenant William Maddox; lieutenant Russell Wilke; detective David Pichotta; Angela Gray, an unsworn custody specialist; and Sally Ann Christian, an unsworn training specialist. The charges related to participating in the falsification of Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) certification documents and/or personally benefiting from those falsifications, fraud, grand theft and perjury.
According to the indictment, Angela Gray, who worked at the department’s Glen Helen North Training Facility, in conjunction with Sally Ann  Christian, was said to have facilitated a situation in which sheriff’s personnel would sign up for POST classes but never attend them. Angela Gray would sign them off as having attended a particular class, usually held at the sheriff’s academy in Devore  under the accreditation of San Bernardino Valley College, then submit the paperwork through the required channels and obtain certificates of completion. Those who signed up for class would either get overtime for attending or were allowed to attend classes on workdays, receiving in turn regular or overtime pay. Many of those who signed up attended only a single class, or in other cases, no classes whatsoever, according to the district attorney’s office.
The never-completed coursework included instruction on verbal judo, advanced subjects contact, officer survival, child abuse, hate and bias crimes, basic dispatch, advanced dispatch, supervisory skills, basic traffic collision, gang awareness, driving under the influence, and civil liabilities. Sworn officers with the department were either required to get periodic retraining in law enforcement skills or were eligible to receive pay increases with the completion of further training. The coursework was supposed to be done in compliance with the state’s POST criteria, that is, Police Officers Standard and Training guidelines, which are set by the state.
More than a year after word leaked out that some of the department’s officers were “cutting corners” on training and retraining requirements, a special criminal grand jury was impaneled in November 2010 to hear testimony in the case. It was that grand jury, which is separate from the civil grand jury that traditionally monitors the function of San Bernardino County government, which heard testimony from witnesses.
By obtaining POST certification, officers qualify for raises or enhanced duty and/or promotions.
Prosecutors eventually dropped the cases against Wilke and Maddox after information surfaced pointing to their innocence. Wilke remains employed by the department. Maddox is retired and is contemplating legal action to further clear his name. Pichotta entered into a plea arrangement by which the felony perjury and grand theft charges that had been lodged against him were reduced to a single misdemeanor charge of grand theft.
The case remains active against Bart Gray, Stodelle and Christian. Thus, the two highest ranking department members caught up in the scandal, Stodelle and Bart Gray, have yet to emerge from it.
Both are in involved as an outgrowth of the political process, specifically the 2010 election when a deputy, Mark Averbeck, had challenged the then-sitting sheriff, Rod Hoops. Averbeck, relying on his inside knowledge of the department, raised the issue of the false training certifications as a campaign issue. Stodelle, whose mercurial rise to the level of assistant sheriff had been fueled in some measure based upon his friendships with former sheriffs Floyd Tidwell and Gary Penrod, inherited oversight of the sheriff’s academy at Devore. It would be his misfortune that his tour in that assignment corresponded with a portion of Angie Gray’s time carrying out clerical duty registering department members for training classes.
For decades, in the words of department members, “shortcuts” had been taken in the running of training programs. For POST classes to be held, an informal requirement was that there be 15 students per class. Given the far flung geography of San Bernardino County, oftentimes a sufficient number of deputies  were unavailable to initiate the POST classes and a pattern developed in which officers who were not present were listed as having been in attendance at the seminars. In this way, according to several now retired department members, falsification of the attendance records became common practice in the department.
In 2010, when Averbeck raised the issue publicly, the department reacted, seeking an administrative solution that would neutralize the matter. When Angie Gray’s involvement at the center of the scandal became apparent, focus fell immediately upon her husband. In short order, it was determined that Bart Gray had been a beneficiary of the falsified certifications and he was quietly pressured into taking retirement and returning $16,000 in pay enhancements he received as a consequence of the certifications as part of an administrative fix Hoops hoped would defuse the issue.
The matter did not die, however, even after the 2010 election, which Hoops won handily. Hoops then designated lieutenant Steve Dorsey to investigate the matter. Dorsey was empowered to work with the district attorney’s office and by extension the grand jury. Early on, Dorsey established the involvement of Angie Gray, Bart Gray and Sally Ann Christian. Stodelle, under whose watch the loose standards relating to training session attendance at the sheriff’s academy had continued, was implicated as well. Dozens, and eventually scores of names of department members who had in some fashion, either directly or indirectly, been involved through participation or knowledge of the falsifications surfaced.  Dorsey’s recommendation to the district attorney’s office and grand jury selectively focused on both Grays, Christian, Stodelle, Maddox, Wilke and Pichotta. When the indictment was handed down, it named only those seven. Subsequently, when the availability of the investigative documents relating to the case became an issue, the department told Judge Michael Smith, who has been hearing the matter, that such documents do not exist. This has been widely interpreted as an indication that large numbers of department members would be prosecutable under the same standards that were applied in the indictments of the seven who were charged.
Neither Bart Gray nor Stodelle has entered into serious discussions about a plea arrangement. There have been numerous delays in the case and the prosecution’s reluctance to take the matter to trial is apparent. Stodelle’s relative strength consists of his ability to demonstrate, in a trial setting, that scores of other department members were similarly involved in the attendance falsifications and that he is being selectively prosecuted. He is hamstrung, however, by his reluctance to implicate any of his former colleagues. Bart Gray, too, could insist on a jury trial but is hampered by his acceptance of the administrative discipline involving his retirement and his return of his enhanced salary based upon the false certifications, tantamount to an admission of culpability.
With the district attorney’s office’s imperative of resolving the matter prior to the 2014 election, when both sheriff John McMahon and district attorney Mike Ramos will need to stand for reelection to remain in office, Stodelle, Bart Gray and Christian appear to be in a holding pattern, determined to see if the charges against them will be dismissed.   All three are next scheduled to appear in court on November 8. It is unclear whether prosecutors will call upon Angela Gray to testify against her husband.

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