FRASER, Mich. (WXYZ) – For the second time, a high ranking officer in Fraser’s department of public safety has defended as “a mistake, but not a criminal act” the actions of a dozen police officers who used unaccredited, online degrees to get years of educational bonuses.
Now a former county prosecutor says an investigation by an outside agency should be conducted to determine if those officers have committed a crime.
We’ve told you about the online degrees, purchased by a dozen Fraser officers over the years so they could get extra pay.
Last night the city’s public safety director said what they did isn’t criminal, but a contract dispute, a misunderstanding.
But a respected defense lawyer who was an assistant Oakland County prosecutor for four years says what he has understood from our investigation leads him to a simple conclusion: an investigation of the facts could lead to felony fraud charges against the officers, based on Michigan’s criminal law.
“Actually paying for degrees online is really offensive,” said Neil Rockind. “People have to work hard for degrees.”
Rockind says he has followed the 7 Action News investigation of a dozen Fraser officers, collecting thousands in educational bonuses for years, after presenting the city with “life-experience” degrees from Almeda University, an online diploma mill widely discredited by several states and the federal government.
Because the officers turned a degree into the city, knowing they didn’t earn it, as they had while taking classes to get the associates degree required to become police officers, Rockind says he believes their actions were “very deliberate, and it’s very premeditated and their actions should be examined by a criminal prosecutor.”
7 Action News was the only station in last night’s Fraser city council meeting where public safety director George Rouhib defended his officers, saying, “There’s no criminal act here. This is nothing but a contract dispute but now there’s civil ramifications attached to it. This is all this is. You cannot prove criminal intent on these officers.”
However, specific acts of the individual officers, Rockind says, should lead to an investigation and a determination if criminal charges should be filed against all 12 officers.
“They were at a certain pay level,” Rockind said. “They wanted more money. They couldn’t get that money on their own. And, they obtained a phony degree and they presented (to the city) something that was false, fraudulent, and that’s a crime.”
Then Rockind added, “This is the sort of double standard that people, the general public fear from those who are part and parcel of the court system.”
In last night’s special city council meeting, councilwoman Kathy Blanke wondered if the internal police department investigation, where criminal investigations commander Lt. Dan Kolke concluded “there were no criminal acts by these officers” was enough to simply move on.
“I don’t know how much more we can possibly get from an investigation with (an agency outside of) public safety,” said Blanke.
Councilwoman Barbara Jennings wanted to know “who can we try to recover this money from?”
City Manager Rich Haberman estimates the lose to the city for paying educational bonus to the 12 officers since 2003 amounts to about $100,000.
Council voted to sue Almeda University, and stop paying educational bonuses to the officers who submitted online degrees for extra cash. They took no action on the issue of requesting a Michigan State Police investigation, as Mayor Doug Hagerty wants.