Sunday, December 27, 2015

City’s top aviation cop used staff as personal helpers

KATZ: Has defended many of his actions

This is an excerpt from an internal city of Albuquerque investigation into allegations against longtime Aviation Police Chief Marshall Katz. (Investigative findings)

As the new administrative assistant to the city’s aviation police chief, Jennifer Fulton said she was insulted when her boss asked her to sew a button on his uniform pants. She said she was offended when, during another day at work, he asked her to pluck his eyebrows.

She said her answer to the requests was a resounding “no” but, over the next four years, city Aviation Police Chief Marshall Katz asked Fulton – and other aviation police employees – to perform other personal tasks that weren’t related to official city business, according to a newly obtained internal city report.

Last February, Fulton finally told Katz she’d had enough.

She complained to city administrators. And the city-commissioned private investigation that followed concluded there was “evidence to support he (Katz) used official resources, City letterhead, and City time for personal benefit,” according to the internal report obtained by the Journal last week.

While the investigation found no corroboration for the eyebrow-plucking claim, it did conclude that Katz dispatched his officers to handle police issues for his friends in other parts of the city, a practice that raised concerns of inadequate police staffing at the airport.

Katz, who has worked for the city as a law enforcement officer for 35 years, couldn’t be reached for comment for this story. His attorney John D’Amato told the Journal last week he has instructed his client not to talk about the case.

He is appealing a 90-day unpaid suspension imposed by the city in November. Under the suspension, city administrators allowed Katz to serve only 45 days of the penalty period, with the other 45 days held in abeyance for six months. Short of termination, a 90-day suspension is the maximum punishment allowed under city personnel rules.

“We’ve adopted a wait-and-see philosophy,” attorney D’Amato said, “because we don’t know exactly what proof the city has of these potentially libelous representations.” A hearing on the appeal is set for Feb. 22-23.

According to the 373-page investigative report, which included recorded interviews, Fulton alleged there had been “countless instances” over the past four years when Katz had her write personal letters for him on city time. He also summoned on-duty officers to Home Depot so he could use their military discount for a personal purchase, and put a flyer in employees’ work mailboxes soliciting funds for his daughter to go on an overseas school trip, the report quoted her as saying.

An incident last February spurred Fulton to file a complaint with the city. She contended Katz created a hostile work environment in retaliation for her refusing to continue to perform personal tasks that weren’t related to official aviation police business.

“It gets tiring to see him abusing his power,” Fulton told investigator Doug Shawn of Universal Investigation Services of Albuquerque.

While finding evidence to support a number of her allegations, the investigator didn’t sustain the hostile workplace/harassment claim, citing “a lack of documentation and/or testimony,” the report stated.

Fulton couldn’t be reached for comment last week. The city Human Resources Department said only she is on “inactive” status.

City officials in November said Katz had violated city policies that included “duty to the public, report of abuse, bribery, gifts and donations, and supervision of employees.”

The investigation found Katz sent his on-duty aviation police officers to Southwest Airlines offices at the Sunport to bring back cases of soda and snacks, which Katz kept in his office and some of which he consumed.

While some officers gladly complied, and said the refreshments were for meetings and parties at the airport, Fulton said other officers “were embarrassed to go ask a company for ‘handouts,’ so they refused,” the report said.

Katz also was found to have had aviation police, who are commissioned law enforcement officers, take reports and handle police calls for his friends and acquaintances at locations outside the Sunport area, the report stated. He also has sent his police officers to open the gates to allow his friends and family, and prominent businessmen to park in a secured airport employee parking lot, the investigation found.

Katz, who previously served as a sergeant with the Albuquerque Police Department, has been chief of the city’s Aviation Police at the Sunport for the past 13 years. His annual salary is about $93,000.

Fulton previously worked for more than three years as a secretary at APD’s Northeast Area Command.

‘He hates me’

According to a recording of Fulton’s interview with the private investigator last February, she decided she would no longer perform Katz’s personal tasks after Katz called her to come in from maternity leave and write a letter for him.

“I thought it was for work so, when I got to work and I did it, I was dumbfounded that it was a personal letter,” she told the investigator.

Moreover, Fulton said she became “extremely upset” that Katz called her on her personal cellphone to ask why the letter hadn’t been written yet.

“I told him it was completely inappropriate and that I would not be doing anything personal for him anymore and to stop asking me,” she told the private investigator. “And ever since then, I mean flat out, you can tell he hates me,” Fulton said.

After her refusal, she contended, Katz created a hostile work environment by having other employees perform her work. And he wouldn’t speak to her, she said. “I’m sitting there literally sometimes with absolutely nothing to do,” Fulton told the investigator.

One aviation police employee confirmed that police officers had been assigned by Katz to perform administrative and secretarial tasks.

“All Ms. Fulton does all day is talk on the phone and watch movies,” that employee was quoted as saying.

Since he found no evidence to support the eyebrow-plucking, investigator Shawn stated in his report that he didn’t ask the chief about the claim.

But other allegations, including “misusing aviation department resources for personal gain,” were sustained, the report stated.

In an interview with the investigator, Katz didn’t deny he may have asked Fulton to sew a button on his pants and reasoned that it “may be considered official work” because the button was for his uniform pants, the investigative report said.

He also admitted asking Fulton to type personal letters for him on city time, including one to a U.S. Coast Guard recruiter on behalf of a recruit and another to a creditor, the report stated.

Katz also confirmed he had Fulton type playlists for Katz’s jazz band, which had a contract to play concerts at the Sunport. “Since it was for the city, he did not see a problem with it,” the report stated.

Katz defended his actions involving the Southwest Airlines sodas and snacks, which he said are “donated and are used for retirement parties, promotions, pregnancies and stranded passengers.” He did admit taking some sodas home, but not often.

Katz denied he had stopped communicating with Fulton and said he didn’t recall Fulton confronting him about performing personal tasks or writing letters for him.

Put ‘officers in danger’

Aviation police, who are state certified, and are commissioned by the APD and Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department, help federal agencies ensure safety at the Sunport and its surrounding areas. For security reasons, the city doesn’t divulge the number of aviation police employees.

In the interview with the investigator, Katz justified sending his aviation police officers off-site to handle reports, saying the “APD is busy and sometimes can’t send an officer in a timely fashion.”

One aviation police sergeant told the private investigator that “officers are constantly being sent off site by Chief Katz to take reports.”

“They have to have five officers on duty at the airport at all times,” the sergeant said. So when officers are sent to other areas of the city to take reports, he said, “it puts the airport and other officers in danger.”

That sergeant also said that Katz told another aviation police officer to take a report “at a food place and then get something to eat for free.”

Katz sent another officer to a car dealership, where Katz had previously purchased a vehicle, to handle an embezzlement case. Another officer was dispatched to take a report on the theft of a gun in the South Valley, but that task should have been handled by APD or the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office since it involved a gun, the sergeant told the investigator.

Another aviation police officer was quoted as saying that, in his six years with the agency, “he has been asked by Chief Katz to take a report for a friend about 12 times.”

Regarding the secured airport employee parking lot, one aviation police supervisor was quoted as saying, “It is common knowledge around the department that Chief Katz lets his son, his daughter-in-law and some of his friends who own businesses park in this lot.”

On another issue, an information technology employee at the Sunport said Katz has had him work on computer laptops for Katz, his family and several of Katz’s friends.

“It was obvious that Chief Katz was taking advantage of him, so he had to tell Chief Katz he could no longer work on personal computers,” the investigative report stated, adding that the IT work wasn’t done on city time.

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