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Cop Corruption Blues: Red Flags & Black Marks

By       Message Linn Washington     Permalink
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The Philadelphia police officer stood outside the front door of that department's headquarters building next to a "No Smoking" sign cavalierly smoking a cigarette ignoring the smoking ban imposed by Philadelphia's Police Commissioner.

While this officer flaunted that smoking ban, inside Philadelphia's Police Administration Building (PAB) department officials held a disciplinary hearing for a policewoman charged with an alleged tax scam detailed in headline making news coverage.

Actions of that smoking ban ignoring police officer and that tax scamming police officer each make a mockery of the Philadelphia Police Department's professed motto of "Honor-Integrity-Service" -- a motto emblazoned in large letters on a wall outside the PAB's main entrance.

Further, those actions, albeit separated in severity, symbolize a disturbing reality operative in law enforcement across America: violations by police receive different treatment from authorities than violations by ordinary citizens.

That tax scam, detailed in reports by the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper, involved 15-year veteran Officer Elaine Thomas fraudulently signing court documents claiming she was related to six persons she obtained houses from to avoid paying city and state real estate transfer taxes. Transfers between relatives are exempt from such taxation.

Those house ownership transfers included forged signatures from dead persons that Thomas variously contended were her living father, mother and sister according to real estate documents.

In one transaction Thomas (allegedly) claimed to be the sister of a dead woman who was over sixty years older than her. Thomas, who has rejected media requests for comments, reportedly has denied any improprieties.

Philadelphia police officials began an internal investigation of Thomas in June 2012 after that city's District Attorney declined to file charges against Thomas.

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The DA had reviewed allegations against Thomas for five years, a review that suspended any investigation by the Police Department until completion of the DA's investigation.

The DA did charge two people with connections to those suspect home sales involving Thomas including a woman who plead guilty to conspiracy related to her notarizing phony property sales.

If the DA's decision to not charge Thomas triggered suspicions about police receiving different treatment the results of that police disciplinary hearing for Thomas underlined such suspicions.

Philadelphia's Police Board of Inquiry recommended a thirty-day suspension for Thomas after finding her guilty, reportedly for misconduct related to her fraudulently gaining possession of those six properties.

The wrist-slap of Thomas and other mild disciplinary actions during the past few months for arguably egregious offenses by police gives additional weight to long-standing claims that crime pays if the criminal is on the right side of the law.

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Early this fall, Philadelphia police officials refused to discharge seven Police Department employees, including a staff member of a Deputy Police Commissioner, who admitted fraudulently obtaining cash grants established to assist low-income residents to pay their utility bills.

The DA's Office did not charge those PPD employees involved in fleecing that government funded energy assistance program.

Philadelphia Police Department officials extended the mild punishment of suspensions ranging from three to fifteen days to those employees admitting utility theft and fraud including a police detective lieutenant who earned $94,000 last year according to city records.

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Linn Washington is a weekly columnist for the Philadelphia Tribune and This Can't Be Happening. Washington writes frequently on inequities in the criminal justice system, ills in society and failings of the news media. He teaches multi-media urban (more...)

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