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City police commander to pay back phony degree bonus

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 Baltimore police commander accused of using a phony degree to earn a pay bonus will avoid conviction if he pays the money back.

Theft charges against Lt. Col. Clifton McWhite will be dropped once he has paid back $1,723.12 in extra pay that prosecutors say he wrongly earned for having a degree from a diploma mill, according to his attorney, Ivan Bates.

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Bates said McWhite was a victim who did not know his degree was from a fictitious institution — New York City University.

"There was no criminal intent. This was an accident," Bates said. "He's already been punished, and he just wants to move on with his life."

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McWhite, at the time a 19-year veteran, was one of the top commanders in the Police Department when an anonymous letter was sent to Police Commissioner Anthony Batts last year that claimed McWhite had a bogus degree. McWhite admitted that he did not have a Bachelor of Science degree and resigned. Criminal charges followed six months later.

The resolution of the case precludes the possible disclosure at trial of an internal police audit that revealed the names of others in the department who have been accused of the same thing.

Police have fought the release of the audit, but for the first time Tuesday disclosed to The Baltimore Sun that three other officers were found to be potentially wrongly receiving the education bonus. A total of 402 officers were receiving the bonus at the time of the review, they said.

Capt. Eric Kowalczyk, a police spokesman, said one of the officers attended an unaccredited four-year institution of higher learning and was not aware that it did not meet the standards of the incentive program "as a result of unclear policies, which have been corrected."

But two were found "to have potentially been in violation of the policy" and were referred to the state's attorney's office for review. The status of those cases could not be determined.

Bates praised Steven Kroll, an outside prosecutor brought in to handle the case after State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby determined that there was a potential conflict of interest due to her friendship with McWhite. Bates said Kroll disclosed information to him that city prosecutors had not revealed, which was the existence of an internal audit.

Bates had questioned why only McWhite had been charged, and under protest from the Police Department he obtained the audit through a court order that prohibits him from disclosing its contents.

Bates has said McWhite offered to pay the money back from the start but was not given the opportunity.

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