No Bang, Just Whimper As Sheriff’s POST Cheating Prosecution Ends

(November 10)  The once grandly touted Police Officer Standards and Training Cheating Scandal Prosecution, which entailed criminal charges against seven current and former Sheriff’s Department employees alleged to have defrauded taxpayers by falsifying training and pay records, was quietly closed out on Halloween when the figure at the center of the case, retired sheriff’s captain Hobart Gray, pleaded no-contest to a single count of “aiding in a misdemeanor.”
An indictment unsealed in March 2011 charged Gray; his wife, sheriff’s training specialist Angela Gray; sheriff training specialist Sallyann Christian; retired sheriff’s lieutenant Bill Maddox; sheriff’s lieutenant Russell Wilke, sheriff’s corporal David Pichotta; and former assistant sheriff Michael Stodelle with falsifying records for the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, the state agency which certifies law enforcement officers with regard to skills and specific technique qualifications. By earning certificates, officers qualify to retain their jobs or can have their pay level increased or otherwise qualify for advancement or promotion. According to the indictment, Angela Gray and Christian added the names of Pichotta, Wilke, Stodelle, Hobart Gray and Maddox to the rosters of training classes they never attended, enabling them to claim higher pay and retirement benefits.
Preceding the filing of charges, there were persistent and wide-ranging reports of training completion certification fraud involving scores of the department’s personnel.
At the case’s initiation, a high-powered press conference was held in which then-sheriff Rod Hoops, district attorney Mike Ramos and the deputy district attorney prosecuting the case, Dan Silverman, were present. After the aggressive kick-off, which was followed by intensive scrutiny by the media and further suggestions that the cheating implicated far more than those who had been charged, up to and including former sheriff Gary Penrod, the case stood essentially dormant for sixteen months.
Then, on July 13, 2012, sixteen months after the charges were originally entered, the first definitive public demonstration of t a problem with the case manifested when Silverman, announcing he was doing so in the interest of justice, dismissed charges against Maddox. Maddox had been charged with failing to complete a class relating to police dispatch work. His lawyer, Michael Scafiddi, demonstrated to Silverman’s satisfaction that  in claiming the course completion credit, Maddox had properly utilized a work assignment, the opening of a sheriff’s department dispatch center in the desert which he had supervised, as a learning experience that met the training criteria. Specifically, according to Scaffidi, Maddox had done research relating to dispatch equipment and procedures by speaking with other agencies throughout the state and consulting technical and procedural manuals.
In dismissing the charges against Maddox, Silverman asserted that the case against all six of the remaining defendants was proceeding toward trial. But on February 1, 2013, Silverman acceded to dismissing all charges against Wilke on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence to obtain a conviction.
Almost three weeks later, on February 21, 2013, the court finalized a plea arrangement Silverman obtained with Pichotta, in which the original charges against him were dismissed in return for his acceptance of guilt on a grand theft charge that was reduced to misdemeanor status.
Silverman was able to declare a second victory in the case on August 28, 2013 when Angela Gray pleaded guilty to the charge of aiding in a misdemeanor.
Nearly a year elapsed with no further developments in the case, until on August 19, 2014, very quietly, all felony charges against Stodelle were dismissed on Silverman’s motion “in the interest of justice.”
On October 31, 2014, the same day that Bart Gray entered his plea, all charges against Christian were dismissed upon a motion by Silverman “in the interest of justice.”
Multiple perspectives on the case relating to whether it should have been filed in the first place, whether it should have included more defendants than the handful who  were charged, whether Angela Gray and Christian fraudulently added the names of far more department personnel to the roster of those who had completed training,  whether it should have been more aggressively pursued, whether it entailed the maligning of innocent people or whether it represented a political can of worms exist. Those charged but exonerated can now maintain they were innocent all along. Those who entered pleas – the Grays and Pichotta – are seen by some as having thrown in the towel too early. Some believe that the case, as far as it went, was valid but that it did not go far enough. Those having that perspective hold that because dozens, scores or even hundreds of other deputies, corporals, detectives, sergeants, lieutenants, captains, deputy chiefs, assistant sheriffs, undersheriffs and even a sheriff or two were equally guilty, some of those in the docket were able to leverage themselves out of the case by threatening to expose virtually the entire department in the cheating scandal.

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