Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Ex-WSP Trooper To Pay $60K For Alleged Pension Scam

by January 17th, 2014

Several years after the allegations prompted headlines, and more than a year after he settled a related misdemeanor case for official misconduct in King County Superior Court, a former Washington State Trooper who allegedly gamed his state pension payout through misclassifying overtime hours he worked in 2010 and 2011 has quietly settled an ongoing state ethics probe by agreeing with his signature to pay a $60,000 fine, while admitting no guilt. The action came in an administrative determination known as a “stipulation” approved this week by the Washington State Executive Ethics Board, with ex-WSP Lieutenant William Blythe Gardiner, now 52. Public records show his last known voter registration address is in Sammamish.

The $60,000 settlement is an unusually large amount for a Washington Executive Ethics Board probe; the biggest in recent years have tended to be in the range of $8,000 to $12,500; and most are for substantially less. The figure does closely correspond to maximum civil sanctions of trebled value under the state Ethics in Public Service Act for goods alleged to have been improperly obtained.

According to the stipulation Gardiner boosted his last two years of salary by $20,976 and thus his monthly retirement benefit by $437, by coding overtime hours as non-voluntary in repeated instances when in fact they should have been coded as voluntary. The $20,976 bump is in contrast to the estimate of $14,747.38 in the King County court case against him. Pay for non-voluntary overtime hours is allowed to be calculated into end-of-career salary levels used to determine pension payments, but pay for voluntary overtime is not. The stipulation was actually finalized in late November but not released until after official approval by the ethics board at its meeting this Monday January 13.

“It is the largest settlement we have had. One case had a larger penalty, but that one was as a result of a hearing, not a settlement. Mr. Gardiner’s fine was based on the large number and variety of violations he had,” said ethics board Executive Director Melanie DeLeon in an email interview.

In one instance, the EEB reports, Gardiner worked contract security for the famous rock band U2 on a Seattle-area concert visit and due to his failure to properly code work on two dates, was paid by the state instead of the band and the money improperly factored into his retirement benefits. Other overtime work for WSP at Seafair; on a DUI emphasis patrol near the Snoqualmie Casino; and on State Route 167 traffic safety emphasis patrols; plus contract work for Microsoft; were among other instances where the EEB says Gardiner engineered improper coding that allowed the overtime pay to be counted toward his end-of-career – highest 24 months – salary when it should not have been. Additionally he padded his pension-related overtime pay by improperly assigning himself an outsize share of WSP overtime for traffic safety emphasis patrols on State Route 99 in Seattle, the EEB settlement states.

The statements of fact in the state ethics board probe included items noted in the King County Court case, related not only to alleged gaming of pension pay-outs through misclassification of overtime, but also alleged misuse by Gardiner of his WSP position to get out of paying fines tied to parking tickets issued by Seattle Police three different times to his personal vehicle. The board also reported that in his official WSP capacity he tried to help get his daughter a job at Microsoft.

Gardiner’s August 1, 2012 misdemeanor guilty plea in King County to one count of official misconduct resulted in an $87 decrease in his monthly retirement benefit, and in his performing 240 hours of community service work, the EEB settlement document states. Four weeks after the county court case resolution, the state ethics board received a complaint and initiated its own investigation of Gardiner which concluded with the $60,000 fine approved this week and agreed to by Gardiner.

Public Data Ferret’s Ethics archive

That investigation relied in part of the WSP’s own inquiry into Gardiner, which began in September, 2011. In the stipulation the ethics board says Gardiner worked in the Field Operations Bureau of WSP’s District 2 in Bellevue as an Assistant District Commander. The 24 months of highest salary are used to set retirement benefits under the WSP plan in which Gardiner was enrolled, and his inordinately large amount of overtime hours and pay in his career’s close-out – some $50,000 more than peers in 2010 alone – caught the attention of state patrol investigators. Also a red flag to the WSP, according to the EEB settlement document, was that “Lt. Gardiner rarely provided a reason for the overtime that he claimed.”

Separately, public records on state employee salaries show Gardiner with overtime earned $168,473 in 2011 and $163,442 in 2010, and that in 2009 his base pay was $7,604 per month or $91,248 annually, without overtime factored in. Even at base pay alone that year, he was one of WSP’s highest paid workers, with only a handful of colleagues such as the chief, deputy chief, a captain, commander and a few senior lieutenants exceeding him. He was hired by the WSP in 1986.

In a 2010 TV news report on new recruits replacing veterans at WSP, Gardiner is featured and discusses his plans to retire, saying in part, “Twenty-five years is a long time.”

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