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Niagara DA: No charges from Lockport police overtime probe

No criminal charges will be filed against any Lockport police officer in the wake of an investigation of alleged overtime abuse at the Lockport Police Department, Niagara County District Attorney Caroline A. Wojtaszek said.

"We did not find anything that was chargeable," Wojtaszek said.

The investigation dovetailed with an outside audit of police overtime ordered by the Lockport Common Council and Police Board, carried out by the Bonadio Group, an Amherst accounting firm.

The audit report has not been released publicly. Alderman Richard E. Abbott, who serves on the Police Board, said Friday that the board and the Council have reviewed it in closed session.

"It identifies deficiencies in our payroll system and practices that were in place that weren't authorized by contract," Abbott said.

Steven C. Preisch, who became interim police chief last June, has cracked down on overtime by detectives, Abbott said.

Police Department figures show detectives worked 1,383 hours of overtime in 2016 and 1,888 hours in 2017, but only 503 in 2018.

That reduced the city's overtime cost for detectives by more than $78,000 from 2017 to 2018, based on salary figures released by Director of Finance Scott A. Schrader.

Preisch declined comment until the audit is publicly released.

"We were asked to look into some discrepancies in the Lockport Police Department," Wojtaszek said. "We got an independent investigator from the Niagara County Sheriff's Department who worked with (Second Assistant District Attorney) Mary-Jean Bowman."

Wojtaszek said the criminal investigation zeroed in on one officer, whom she would not name because no charges are being brought.

"We narrowed it down to three discrepancies and concluded there was no criminal intent by one employee," Wojtaszek said. "Based on the investigation, we concluded there was not a pattern of behavior or evidence of criminal intent."

The audit was ordered after the Police Board took disciplinary action against former Chief of Detectives Brian W. Wentland, who was accused of claiming overtime he wasn't entitled to in October 2017.

Wentland sought four hours of overtime for directing an investigation by phone from his home on a day off. City officials contended that he would have had to report to Police Headquarters or the crime scene to be entitled to the roughly $275 of overtime pay he claimed.

Wentland, who already spent a few days on leave because of the issue, was given a deadline in February 2018 to retire or face further discipline from the Police Board. He retired.

"The audit made a number of recommendations to the Lockport Police Department that will clear up overtime issues going forward. I know that the current chief and mayor are working hard to actively address those issues," Wojtaszek said.

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