Cop overtime abuse suspected in Bashara trial

George Hunter
The Detroit News

A Detroit Police internal investigation into overtime abuse is focusing on whether officers wrongfully logged court time during the lengthy murder trial of convicted Grosse Pointe Park murderer Robert Bashara.

The investigation into allegations of widespread overtime abuse began in November, after a supervisor in the department's Homicide Section, Lt. Joseph Tiseo, reported officers were illegally charging the city for time they hadn't worked. The probe later widened to include several other units, Detroit Police Chief James Craig said.

The charges included officers allegedly writing false subpoenas to appear in court so they could collect overtime.

Detroit Police Capt. Eric Decker, commanding officer of the Homicide Section, said Wednesday that court time for homicide investigators has dropped 52 percent amid the investigation. Total overtime in the unit is down 14.5 percent this year, he said.

The Police Department is budgeted for $19.6 million in overtime this year.

In the Bashara probe, Detroit Police investigators last week obtained files from Grosse Pointe Park police, and plan to meet with Wayne County prosecutors to determine which officers were authorized to be in court during the 10-week trial of Bashara, who was found guilty in December of hiring a hit man to kill his wife, Jane.

Jane Bashara was killed in her Grosse Pointe Park garage and her body was dumped in her car in an alley on Detroit's east side. Because the crime happened in the Detroit suburb, Grosse Pointe Woods police investigated the crime and has all the case files.

No meeting has been set up yet between Detroit police and Wayne County prosecutors.

Assistant Prosecutor Maria Miller said her office isn't yet aware of the probe. "It's our habit not to comment on investigative matters," she said.

The question is whether some officers went to Wayne Circuit Court, and were paid time-and-a-half, without being subpoenaed or being endorsed as witnesses by prosecutors, so they could collect extra pay.

Craig said investigators are trying to determine whether there was criminal wrongdoing, neglect or mismanagement.

"We're still early in the investigation," he said. "We haven't found any criminal behavior, although we're still looking into it.

"It's either one of two things: It's either a crime or mismanagement. I can deal with mismanagement, but fraud is another matter entirely."

Grosse Pointe Park Public Safety Director David Hiller said he's cooperating with Detroit police on the investigation into the Bashara case, and his department has provided information, but declined to discuss specifics.

"Because it's an internal Detroit investigation, I'm not at liberty to give any information," Hiller said.

Sgt. Joseph Abdella, a former homicide investigator, filed a whistle-blower lawsuit in November, claiming he was transferred out of the unit to the Mounted Section because he reported overtime fraud. But Craig said he was moved because he allegedly called a female subordinate a "black (expletive)" during an argument.

Abdella supervised a joint task force of investigators responsible for cases involving multiple deaths, police-involved shootings and narcotics-related killings. The unit consisted of six Detroit police officers and 10 Michigan State Police troopers, according to the lawsuit filed in Wayne Circuit Court, which seeks more than $25,000 in damages.

Last month, Sgt. Erik Eide, commanding officer of the Mounted Section, was removed from his post and suspended without pay after being accused of overtime fraud. He remains suspended pending the outcome of the investigation.