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High-ranking Baltimore police commander stole pay, prosecutors say

Lt. Cliff McWhite resigned with 19 years of service with the Baltimore Police Department.
Lt. Cliff McWhite resigned with 19 years of service with the Baltimore Police Department. (Handout photo)

A former high-ranking Baltimore police commander — who the department said in April stepped down for "personal reasons" — was charged Wednesday with theft.

Prosecutors said Lt. Col. Clifton McWhite was charged with theft between $1,000 and $10,000 following a joint investigation by the city state's attorney's office and the Police Department.

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Two officials with knowledge of the theft case said he lied to obtain an educational incentive credit, which offers a small pay increase for officers with college degrees. The officials did not want to be identified because it is a pending case.

McWhite's attorney, Ivan Bates, said McWhite had taken classes online at what he thought was a legitimate school, and the school had sent his transcript to the Police Department.

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"Cliff is a victim here. He took actual online courses, but unbenownst to Cliff, it appears it was a diploma mill," Bates said, declining to name the school.

Bates said McWhite is only accused of recieving $1,700 extra pay as a result. He stopped receiving the credit after he was promoted to commander several years ago. He said McWhite also offered to pay the money back but was not given the opportunity.

"His promotions had nothing to do with his resume — it had everything to do with his job performance," Bates said. "They're going to prosecute this man over $1,700?"

Bates also said that a Baltimore Police internal audit showed other officers also claimed degrees from questionable schools.

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"My understanding is there's an audit where they found a number of other officers had also been in this type of situation, and it doesn't appear any of them are being prosecuted," Bates said.

Records show that McWhite, a 19-year veteran, was paid $100,017 in fiscal year 2013, from a base salary of $98,000.

Police spokesman Detective Ruganzu Howard said McWhite was a "former employee" and that "we don't have anything to say about" the charges. Howard declined to answer further questions.

In April, the agency called McWhite "a talented member of our team" whose service would be missed. Since then, the agency has not provided information requested by The Baltimore Sun about McWhite's promotions and corresponding pay raises, and what educational credentials McWhite had submitted.

Police also did not provide information on how much educational credit incentives are worth or what requirements are necessary to receive such bonuses.

McWhite was named in 2010 to oversee the section that includes the sex offense unit to implement reforms after The Sun reported that the department had classified a high number of rape cases as "unfounded." McWhite went on to be the commander of the Western District, and also oversaw the Special Enforcement Section when it was reconstituted.

At the time he stepped down, McWhite was one of three "area commanders," a position created by Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts last year. McWhite oversaw the Western, Northwestern and Southwestern districts.

His departure came closely on the heels of the resignation of another area commander, Lt. Col. Dan Lioi. Lioi also has been criminally charged since leaving the agency for allegedly abusing his wife and violating a protective order in Harford County.

Police said officers seized five guns from Lioi's home — a standard practice in domestic-violence cases — one of which was determined to have been missing from the Police Department's evidence control.

Baltimore Sun reporter Justin George contributed to this article.

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