Monday, May 26, 2008

Veteran Officer John Degon Files False Report

A 14-year veteran of the Police Department was arrested yesterday for allegedly helping another city man commit insurance fraud by filing a phony report in his own department.

Officer John M. Degon, 38, of Worcester, and Timothy LaFratta, 25, of 19 Modoc St., Worcester, were both arrested last night after police learned a 1997 Jeep Wrangler, reported stolen by Mr. LaFratta on May 17, was in fact not stolen and the officer allegedly helped hide the false claim.

Police Chief Gary J. Gemme confirmed that the officer took a report from Mr. LaFratta knowing the vehicle was not stolen, then filed that report with his department.

Other police officers became aware of the false report and told supervisors, the chief said.

“Because of the nature of this incident we’re going to have to investigate other reports that Officer Degon has filed,” Chief Gemme said. Police need to make sure this was an isolated incident and not a pattern of behavior, he said.

Both men will be arraigned in Central District Court today.

Mr. LaFratta will be charged with insurance fraud and conspiracy to commit insurance fraud. Officer Degon will be charged with conspiracy to commit insurance fraud and concealing a motor vehicle with intent to defraud insurance. Chief Gemme said the investigation is ongoing and expects other charges to be filed against the officer.

After the May 17 report, police began investigating the theft and used the Jeep’s LoJack system to find it, police spokesman Sgt. Kerry F. Hazelhurst said. The Jeep was discovered two days later at Somerville and Stoneham streets.

“Information was brought to light during the investigation that Officer Degon was involved with the owner of the vehicle in regard to the fraudulent report that the vehicle was stolen,” the sergeant said.

The department’s Bureau of Professional Standards and Detective Bureau continue both internal and criminal investigations.

Chief Gemme will discuss the matter with city officials and request that Officer Degon be immediately suspended without pay. He will then make a further recommendation to City Manager Michael V. O’Brien.

“My recommendation to the manager will be termination,” Chief Gemme said last night.

The chief said his department wanted to be up front with the public about the arrest, noting the officer allegedly committed a crime and violated his oath.

“I support the hardworking men and women of the Worcester Police Department and I will continue to support them and if and when we have an incident of this nature we will take appropriate action,” he said. “We want to reassure the public that 99.9 percent of all the officers come to work every day and do a difficult job with integrity.”

The chief said the message is two-fold: the Police Department has the ability to police itself and the public should know that and; he supports his officers and the public should know that as well.

“This came about because police officers in the Worcester Police Department and police officials recognized a crime was committed and came forward,” Chief Gemme said. “This crime would not have surfaced if it wasn’t for honest police officers and supervisors who came across information during their normal duties.”

Chief Gemme said he is sure some people in the community will look at some of the 450 sworn officers differently right now. But he noted the officers in his department know the rules and know if they are found to have committed a crime, they will be arrested.

“I think the members of the Worcester Police Department support this kind of action,” he said. “They don’t want to be associated with an officer who is committing a crime.”

Cpl Minh Tran Arrested for Bribery

A Dallas police officer was arrested Wednesday on suspicion that he demanded and accepted money for not reporting potential violations of gambling laws, police said.

Senior Cpl. Minh Tran, 54, was arrested without incident on a felony bribery charge about 7 p.m. near Lakeland Drive and Ferguson Road, police said. The location of the arrest is believed to be a gambling hall.

The charge leveled against Cpl. Tran, who has been with the department since 2001, reportedly stems from an alleged shakedown of a Vietnamese family that was running a gambling operation.

Cpl. Tran is assigned to the northeast patrol division. He has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an internal affairs investigation, police said.

Last year, he was suspended for one day after internal investigators found that he refused to take a report from a victim who had just been robbed. “Instead, he instructed the citizen to call 911 because he was near the end of his shift,” department records show.

The suspension was subsequently reduced to a supervisor’s disciplinary report by Police Chief David Kunkle.

Officer Accused of Molesting Teen Girl

Officer Thomas Newton Durdick, a patrolman with the Simpsonville Police Department, has been arrested and charged with criminal sexual misconduct.

He is accused of molesting a teenage girl almost four years ago. Investigators say the girl told them that when she was 15 years old Officer Durdick molested her.

He's on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.

He's being held in Greenville County Detention Center on an $80,000 bond.