Waukesha Police and Fire Commissioner resigns amid theft allegations as DPW employee

Published on: 8/8/2013

Despite saying the allegations against him in the thefts of metal scrap are "untrue," Dan Owens has resigned from the Police and Fire Commission.  

Owens' resignation comes two days after Mayor Jeff Scrima suspended him from the PFC after a recently completed investigation accuses Owens of misappropriating more than $13,200 received by him in payment for city scrap metal delivered by him in city trucks to scrap yards.

City Administrator Ed 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."

His resignation is also one day before the Waukesha Common Council was scheduled to make a recommendation to the Human Resources Committee on Owens' removal. 

"I am only resigning for the sake of my family, as well as the undue financial burden of attorney fees relating to this issue," Owens said in a letter sent to the Common Council on Wednesday. "If it were not for the affect this issue has had on my family, as well as the financial burden of attorney fees, I would look forward to having a hearing before the Common Council."

But with his resignation, Owens won't be able to state his case during a hearing before the HR Committee.

The investigation, which started in March, against Owens and other Department of Public Works employees was done by the Waukesha County Sheriff's Department and included a forensic audit report, done by The BERO Group.

According to the audit, three DPW employees, all of whom have agreed to resign or retire, misappropriated payments made by Waukesha Recycling between 2009 and 2013 totaling $20,684.

At Waukesha Iron and Metal, $16,925 was misappropriated in payments in 2011 and 2012. The audit said a lack of management oversight and ready access to cash are the primary factors contributing to the fraud.

According to the investigation results, a 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 concluded.

According to the investigation results, a new supervisor became aware of employees keeping cash for the sale of scrap in March 2013 and reported the incident.

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 audit concluded that about $37,600 was fraudulently misappropriated from the city due to city employees failing to turn over cash or checks received from scrap yards. The audit adds it is likely an additional $6,400 was misappropriated for a total fraud of $44,000.

The charges allege that Owens was not authorized by the city to retain the money paid to him in return for city scrap. 

However, Owens disputes that.

"I will assure each and every member of the Common Council that the allegations made in the Mayor's complaint are untrue," Owens said. "I assure each member of the Common Council that I gave every single dime - obtained from the ongoing practice of scrapping items from the City of Waukesha Department of Public Works - to my supervisor."

He said his attorney, Dan Fay, submitted to the DA's Office the names of individuals who recently retired from the DPW saying that employees were directed by supervisors to cut up items such as light poles, street signs and traffic signals that were at the Recycling Center.

He said the testimony "will indicate that supervisors specifically directed all of these employees to take these items, in City of Waukesha vehicles, to Waukesha Iron and Metal to get cash and/or checks made payable to "cash" for the items and that all of the money and/or checks were brought back to the City of Waukesha Department of Public Works for the purpose of paying for retirement lunches and replacement tools."

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

While Owens has denied any wrongdoing, Scrima said he stands by the results of the investigations.

“The Sheriff’s investigation report and the independent forensic audit report clearly document what Mr. Owens is responsible for," Scrima said Thursday.

Police and Fire Commissioners, volunteer citizens, are responsible for hiring and firing members of the Police and Fire departments.

Owens stepping down leaves a void on the PFC, scheduled to hold a hearing for embattled fire chief Jesse Alba on Aug. 21.

According to a separate investigation, Alba is alleged to have sexually harassed a part-time female employee earlier this year asking for her resignation twice after he became infatuated with her. Scrima and Henschel have asked for Alba's resignation.

In Owens' letter to the Common Council he asked that the aldermen wait on appointing a replacement for his position until the fire chief matter is resolved.

Henschel said city officials would have asked for Owens' resignation regardless of the Alba incident.

"(Owens') 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.