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ONLY ON ABC-7: DA sheriff’s office employees accused of committing overtime fraud

Anonymous callers through Dona Ana County’s fraud and abuse hotline are claiming sheriff’s employees are committing overtime fraud, at taxpayer’s expense.

The employee with the most complaints, Community Outreach Deputy Michelle Ugalde, is behind programs like the neighborhood watch, citizen’s academy and the Special Olympics torch.

ABC-7 obtained the complaint claiming Ugalde is being “paid an inordinate amount of money for compensation for over-time hours that may or may not be worked.”

Another claim states Ugalde “hasn’t been seen in the building for three weeks.”

Those accusations caught Sheriff Kiki Vigil by surprise. “It was KVIA that brought this to my attention, why didn’t HR or the county manager bring this to my attention back in February?” he asked.

ABC-7 combed through hundreds of Ugalde’s time sheets from 2014 to June 2016 and found she averaged about 55 hours a week.

Ugalde consistently works overtime. In August 2015, she worked 13 straight days. In October 2015, she worked 7 days in a row. In November 2015, she worked 9 days straight. The pattern continues throughout the year.

Ugalde worked an average of 119 hours every two weeks in 2015. After 86 hours, deputies get time-and-a-half. Ugalde earned roughly an extra $1,200 every pay period, more than $32,000 a year in overtime.

ABC-7 asked Ugalde if she’s worked all those hours. “Yes I have,” she said.

Ugalde just earned national recognition for her work to educate kids about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. She gave ABC-7 a list of tasks she says she’s had to take on since the community outreach program got slashed from 17 deputies to 2 in 2008. She says she’s asked deputies for help, but volunteers are not always there.

So far in 2016, Ugalde has accumulated an average of $1,105.96 every pay period in overtime. ABC-7 asked Ugalde if she thought the number of hours she was working was a lot.

“I think to people who don’t know what my job is and don’t know what it entails to take the community the size of Dona Ana County and be there for those communities,” Ugalde said. “Again, it’s been offered before to other officers and I’ve asked for help for the past 8 years.”

Ugalde says Sheriff Vigil is in charge of approving her overtime. Vigil says if there was any question of fraud, the county’s finance department should have caught it. “Our staff work overtime on a daily basis. If I was to do that it’d be consuming all my time,” Vigil said.

Tipsters also allege detective Ken Roberts, who’s assigned to the White Collar Crime Unit, works long hours of his choosing, not authorized in advance. An anonymous caller claims while attending training, deputy Roberts was quote “getting overtime, when normal training is 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.”

ABC-7 combed through hundreds of time sheets for Roberts, from 2014 to June of 2016. During 2015, Roberts worked an average of 109 hours every 2 weeks. Records show he has accumulated an average of $605.59 every pay period in overtime.

Roberts did not return ABC-7’s calls for an on camera interview.

Sheriff Vigil stands by his employees. “I can tell you, they are working those hours,” he said.

Vigil admits Roberts got overtime while attending polygraph school, but says it’s because he had to also attend a separate training with the State of New Mexico. “This was required state training he had to get out because he was not present here at the office. He was out of town and he had to get that out of the way,” the sheriff said.

Vigil continues to ask why the county didn’t tell him about the complaints.

County Manager Julia Brown wouldn’t sit down for an interview, but in a statement said the county usually forwards complaints to the department head. She said the exception to that is, “when complaints also involve the department head. Because it would be inappropriate to have them investigate or review their own behavior relative to allegations in such cases, those are not forwarded to the department concerned. instead they are reviewed by sources outside the department concerned.”

While not all complaints reported Vigil specifically, Brown stated: “There may have been a determination that they were sufficiently related in character that they involved the department head whether specifically mentioned or not.”

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