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Article updated: 4/17/2013 10:41 AM

Des Plaines suspends 13 cops linked to grant scheme

By James Kane

Des Plaines police announced Tuesday that 13 officers have been suspended between 7 and 60 days each for their parts in a scheme to misrepresent their participation in grant-funded traffic enforcement campaigns.

The officers, whose names were not disclosed, were cited for violations that included conduct unbecoming; obedience of laws and regulations; reporting violations of laws, ordinances, rules or orders; and truthfulness, police said. Twelve of the 13 officers disciplined are assigned to the department's patrol division. The other is in the detective division.

Officers who were found to have gained financially from their involvement in the scheme will be ordered to make restitution, police said. Some did not profit, while others must repay amounts ranging from $184 to $787.

The suspensions follow an internal investigation into allegations the department over-reported the number of DUI arrests made during enforcement campaigns paid for by state and federal grants. The investigation, conducted by an outside consultant, also sought to determine whether officers intentionally misrepresented the number of hours they worked in order to receive grant-funded overtime compensation.

In February, retired Des Plaines police commander Timothy Veit was charged by federal authorities with making false statements in reports that led to the department fraudulently receiving $132,893 in overtime reimbursements for drunken driving enforcement campaigns. Veit, 55, of Mount Prospect, has denied the allegations.

Despite the black mark on the department, Chief Bill Kushner, who was hired from outside the department last summer, said he believes people can trust Des Plaines officers to honestly do their jobs -- though he adds, "we have to go about regaining the public's trust."

He said while he doesn't excuse the conduct, officers listened to a superior officer who told them what they were doing would be OK. Still, he said, officers should have followed their gut instinct rather than participating in the misuse of the program.

"Shame on them for not doing more checking," he said. "If it doesn't feel right, it's not right."

He also stressed that systems have been put in place to prevent a recurrence, though he stopped short of promising perfection, saying police are human. "We haven't figured out how to clone the perfect police officer."

Kushner said several factors weighed in to his decision to mete out discipline, including the specific rules violations and each officer's individual disciplinary history. He said the department and investigators worked closely with federal and state officials to determine the scope of the wrongdoing.

Suspensions are being served on a rotating basis so that the department's ability to respond is not impacted, Kushner said.

Federal prosecutors said Veit, who was charged, oversaw the department's administration of the federally funded Sustained Traffic Enforcement Program and, between 2009 and 2012, inflated drunken driving arrests in order to receive additional funding from the program. Prosecutors said Veit reported 122 "fictitious" DUI arrests.

For the 2011-12 fiscal year, Des Plaines was awarded a $115,236 grant from STEP -- the highest amount in the Northwest suburbs. Between 2009 and 2012, IDOT authorized $170,366 in STEP funds for Des Plaines' impaired-driving enforcement efforts.

The Illinois Department of Transportation last spring suspended the grant after the city notified it of potential problems with its record keeping.

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