Police union to erect fraud hot line billboard in Westminster

The Carroll County Fraternal Order of Police is planning to erect a billboard in downtown Westminster that will advertise the "City of Westminster Fraud Hotline" and ask city employees and residents to report any suspected wasteful spending by city officials, while new allegations of misusing funds and resources have recently risen.

The billboard is "Phase II" of the FOP's campaign to uncover waste and fraud within Westminster government, said FOP Lodge 20 President John Shippee. The hot line, which was "Phase I" has received more than 30 calls since it was established in January, he said. Shippee expects the billboard to be up by the end of the month.

New allegations of misusing funds and resources have risen since the hot line was established. The FOP is a charging that some city officials spent funds to repaint police vehicles that were ordered in the wrong color and that a former councilman requested a police escort through the city for his daughter's lacrosse team, Shippee said.

Westminster Police Chief Jeff Spaulding responded to the new allegations, stating that the vehicles were paid for with money seized from drug dealers and that an on-duty officer handled the escort detail, which only took 10-15 minutes.

In early 2006, the department ordered five police vehicles from Ford and when they arrived from the factory, they were the wrong color and did not match the department's fleet, Spaulding said. Ford would not permit the return of the cars as the color code matched the order. It's not clear if it was a city staff member or the dealer who made the error, he said.

Two of the cars were put into service "as is" as unmarked cars, and the other three marked patrol vehicles were repainted to match the rest of the fleet, Spaulding said. The paint jobs were paid with money seized from drug dealers, not city funds. The total was $6,600, he said.

The 2008 Winters Mill High School lacrosse team qualified for the state final and had to travel out of county for the game, Spaulding said. Former councilman Roy Chiavacci requested an escort for the bus, a large group of parents and well-wishers that were following the bus to the game, he said.

"Given the circumstances, I approved the request and made the appropriate arrangements," Spaulding wrote in an email. "An on-duty officer was used and no overtime was incurred. This request was similar in nature to the almost daily escorts we provide for the funeral processions in the city."

A statement released by the FOP in December alleged that Spaulding was using money seized from drug busts to purchase iPhones and iPads for top commanders; that department heads were coercing officers to pick up extra shifts to patrol Walmart in Westminster; and that patrol vacancies are creating a public safety issue. The statement was released by Gary McLhinney, a labor negotiator and consultant for the Baltimore-based law firm Schlachman, Belsky & Weiner, P.A., which is representing the Carroll FOP.

Spaulding and Westminster officials denied the claims, saying that McLhinney was just trying to divide the police force and get the city to agree to collective bargaining. The extra hours at Walmart are optional and that the city is in the process of hiring new patrol officers, he said. Spaulding did admit to purchasing an iPad and accessories for $832.86, but he said it was a necessary and legal purchase. He uses the iPad every day at work to take notes and to communicate with other staff, he said.

The FOP was formed to support and defend the Constitution of the United States and of the State of Maryland and to promote a more professional, personal and efficient cooperation among the law enforcement officers in the state, according to http://www.fop20.com. The FOP serves as a union for Carroll County's law enforcement officers.

Westminster city officials will not respond to any more claims made by the FOP, said Mayor Kevin Utz. The city has provided sufficient time and opened all of its offices for the press to see anything that was in question, he said.

"They are fishing in a pond with no fish," Utz wrote in an email.

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