Scrima suspends Waukesha Police and Fire Commission member due to theft allegations

Published on: 8/5/2013

Citing a violation of the City of Waukesha's code of ethics, Mayor Jeff Scrima has exercised his statutory authority to suspend Dan Owens from serving on the Police and Fire Commission.

The suspension is pending the outcome of the hearing of charges against him for his permanent removal from the PFC.

Owens is a former Department Public Works employee who has been accused of stealing metal scraps from the city by failing to turn over cash or checks received from scrap yards, along with two other former DPW employees.

Scrima had previously asked for Owens' resignation when the investigation started this spring after the three were initially put on paid administrative leave.

A copy of the charges against Owens, the suspension letter, the Sheriff's Department Investigation, Forensic Report Executive Summary and the employment investigation interview notes conducted by the City of Waukesha were released Monday.

The investigation done by the Waukesha County Sheriff's Department, which included a forensic audit report, shows that while Owens was an employee of the city and a Police and Fire Commissioner he misappropriated from the city more than $13,200 received by him in payment for city scrap delivered by him in city trucks to scrap yards.

The charges filed to the Common Council by Henschel say that Owens was not authorized by the city to retain the amounts paid to him in return for city scrap.

Henschel said in the written charges that according to a report provided to the city by the Waukesha County Sheriff's Department, Owens acknowledged to a detective that he believes that since 2009, he has kept money he received from the sale of city scrap "in an amount less than $4,000."

Owens told the detective he considered such money a "perk" of his job with the city, the written charges say.

According to an interview with the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Department, Owens said he would give a now-retired supervisor “oodles of money over the years.”

He said the supervisor always told him cash, no checks.

Owens said out of that money, the supervisor would give them money for tools and buy pizza.

“Ethically, I knew it’s wrong and I’m sick about this,” Owens told a Waukesha County Sheriff’s Department detective. Owens also said in his interview they gave thousands of dollars for parties at the shop.

But he added that if this scrapping was an issue, “(our current supervisor Steve Dzieken) should have told us about it and we would have changed our ways.” 

Charges have been referred to the Waukesha County District Attorney's Office. DA Brad Schimel said the investigation is ongoing.

Nevertheless, Henschel said such conduct by Owens establishes that he will be unable to properly exercise judgment with respect to charges against members of the city’s Police and Fire Departments.

“His personal wrongful conduct described in the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Department reports render him incapable of fairly judging the conduct of other public officials, officers or employees or participating in the preparation of rules and regulations governing such conduct,” Henschel said.

Henschel said Monday that Owens will not sit on the commission that will decide embattled fire chief Jesse Alba's fate.

Alba’s hearing has been scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Aug. 21, Henschel said Monday.

A separate independent investigation showed that Alba allegedly sexually harassed a part-time female employee.

A complaint against him said he asked the employee to resign twice due to his infatuation with her. The complaint said that if she didn't quit, Alba told her when he became chief she would no longer have her position. She resigned on June 1.

An audit regarding the thefts says that the three former employees misappropriated payments made by Waukesha Recycling between 2009 and 2013 totaling $20,684.

At Waukesha Iron, $16,925 was misappropriated in payments in 2011 and 2012. 

According to a DPW internal investigation, Owens said “we were never told what yard to take scrap.” According to the investigation results, the now-retired supervisor said to keep the scrap under $600 and get cash.

Employees were told the money was for the purchase of tools and retirement lunches, the investigation revealed.

According to an interview, Dzieken became aware of employees keeping cash for the sale of scrap in March 2013 and reported the incident.

Through various interviews, inferences were made that other employees were involved in the practice of selling scrap and keeping money. Henschel notes, however, that no specific employees or amounts of money involved were identified by the Sheriff investigators or the forensic audit.

Henschel adds that of the three employees who admitted to keeping various amounts of cash, one has retired, a second has agreed to retire and a third has agreed to resign.

Henschel concluded that “there is no question that DPW employees sold scrap material and that some of the money was turned into the DPW supervisor and some was kept by employees.”

The total amount of lost funds is unknown, Henschel notes, but that it is at least $37,600 and likely more than $44,000, according to the forensic audit.

“It also appears that there was a culture within the department that suggested that keeping the money for lunches, parties and purchase of tools was acceptable,” Henschel said. ”In some manner this culture extended to keep cash for personal use.”

Procedures, Henschel said, were developed by at least one supervisor (the now retired employee) to keep the amount of scrap small per transaction (less than $600) and in some instances employees were told not to get a receipt from the recycling companies for the scrap.

Owens’ attorney Dan Fay said last week that his client is being targeted for “telling the truth.”

He also disputed the claim that the city is out all of this money.

"I don't know how they're out $40,000 when all the money was brought back to them," Fay said.

Fay added after talking with retired DPW employees, it's common for employees, while under orders, to go to a scrap yard and take items to Waukesha Iron and Metal, turn it in for cash or checks payable and bring it back to the foreman.

"It's just like they were supposed to do," Fay said.

The Waukesha Common Council will make a referral on Owens’ removal from the PFC to the city's Human Resources Committee at its meeting Thursday at City Hall, 201 Delafield St.

The HR Committee will then hold a public hearing before giving its final recommendation to the Common Council.