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Lower Makefield Resident Questions Retroactive Changes to Police Personnel Records

A Lower Makefield resident says he’s obtained records showing someone is changing police department employment schedules to indicate officers worked on days when previous records showed they didn’t.

In January, Delaware Valley Journal first broke the story that Lower Makefield police employee records showed an officer who was out on disability was being paid as if he were working.

Now, resident Tim Daly says he has documents showing records being altered, and he’s emailing township supervisors, solicitors, and the Bucks County District Attorney’s office asking for an investigation.

“I am sending this email to alert you that it appears that an LMT employee with access to the police schedule has begun destroying and/or altering evidence related to the misappropriation of funds to ghost police officers by altering schedules that detailed the ghost officers were on duty within the electronic schedule that was used for verification of hourly pay,” Daly wrote. “You should be aware that I have over 50 screenshots of the past schedules that I have accumulated as evidence of misconduct in the police department.”

Asked about what crimes might have been committed, J. Chadwick Schnee, the attorney representing Daly, cited tampering with public records.

“To the extent that Lower Makefield is altering public records to retroactively cover a ghost employee issue, it would be a violation of this section. As is almost always the case, the coverup is usually worse than the crime,” said Schnee.

However, Township Manager David Kratzer told DVJournal that Daly is wrong in his assessment of why the police records are being changed.

“While not intimately familiar with the police department’s scheduling software and while generally aware that it’s common for changes to be made to the department’s schedule to reflect specific circumstances/schedule changes, I can assure you that there are no ‘ghost’ employees employed by the police department,” said Kratzer. “Both of the referenced employees were out of work due to medical conditions and, therefore, unavailable for duty. The schedule changes reflect that reality.”

When shown Kratzer’s response, Schnee said, “I think this leaves more questions than answers for me, as there’s an acknowledgment that the records were altered. If everything was done correctly, why are they being changed retroactively, more than a year after the fact?”

In an email, Supervisors Chairman John Lewis said he is happy to meet with Daly and is “ready to fully cooperate with the Bucks County district attorney or other law enforcement agency in any data gathering or investigation they deem necessary.” However, he also said, “In reviewing your email, I am not certain you have shown a violation of the law. However, I am not a licensed attorney.”

Previously, DVJournal reported on Michael Pell, the DARE officer who had suffered a stroke in 2020 and was on disability yet was paid as if he were working full-time.

Police Chief Kenneth Coluzzi explained the department’s policy was to make injured officers on disability “whole,” paying the remainder of their salaries not covered by disability insurance.

Daly said the department records are apparently being changed to show Pell and two others were working when they were not. Pell has since recovered and was hired by the Bucks County Sheriff’s Office.

Richard Burns, chair of the computer science department at West Chester University, said there would be digital footprints regarding any changes made to the programs used by the Lower Makefield Township Police payroll system, PowerTime from PowerDMS. Burns said PowerTime is a modern program with backup features, so changes to the system and logins can be tracked.

“I would be beyond shocked if there wasn’t a digital footprint there,” said Burns.

Neither a spokesperson for Bucks County DA Jennifer Schorn nor Chief Coluzzi responded to requests for comment about the apparent record changes.

 

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Does Lower Makefield Have ‘Ghost’ Employees?

An apparently long-standing practice of Lower Makefield Township paying police officers the remainder of their salary when they are on disability is raising questions about how taxpayer dollars are being handled.

According to records obtained through right-to-know requests brought by resident Tim Daly, the township paid an officer for three years while he was not reporting for duty.

That officer, Michael Pell, who is no longer on the police force as of September 2023, received a salary of more than $112,000 per year, according to township payroll records.

A whistleblowing township employee told DVJournal that Pell had suffered a stroke in May 2020 and was unable to qualify to handle a firearm. Officers must qualify annually with their firearm, according to a spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Police. Township records show that Pell last took the firearms exam in 2019.

Pell had been a  D.A.R.E. officer who visited schools and warned students about the dangers of drug use, and the community outreach officer. He also did administrative jobs for Chief Kenneth Coluzzi.

When Pell first had a stroke, he was temporarily placed on sick leave. However, according to a township employee familiar with the situation, Pell’s name was then returned to the duty roster despite the fact that he never returned to the job. Other employees who asked about Pell were warned to “shut up.”

“He was not in the building, and he was 100 percent not working,” the source said.  “Mike Pell was getting paid his regular salary as if he was there every day.”

“They defrauded the people of Lower Makefield since May of 2020 until he retired on the 28th of September of this year,” the source claimed.

Those allegations are wrong, Coluzzi said.

Coluzzi readily admitted that the township was paying Pell, but said it was long-standing policy for police officers out on disability to be made “whole.”

Coluzzi explained that the short-term and long-term disability only pay 66 1/3 of an officer’s salary and the township then pays the remainder.

“It’s a long-standing provision the township has,” said Coluzzi. “A practice the township has, probably for 30 years. Nothing underhanded. There is a possibility the township may revisit that in the future.”

So, over the course of three years the township apparently paid Pell $113,232, plus benefits and pension.

Pell told a different story to DVJournal.

“I had a stroke, a very severe stroke,” said Pell. “We have a disability clause in our contract. I was paid through our insurance company.”

Township manager David Kratzer Jr. said, “ I have discussed this matter with the township solicitor. Recognizing that this is an ongoing personnel issue, I’ve been advised that no public comment can be made at this time.”

However, Kratzer sent an email to employees in August 2023 to clarify the township’s disability policy, saying it was governed by the contract for union employees.

“For unionized employees or those employees covered by an employment agreement, the level of benefits is provided consistent with the negotiated terms and conditions of the applicable agreement (s),” the memo said.

In an August 2023 letter to Pell, obtained through right-to-know requests, Kratzer said, “…prior to your return to work, you will be expected to meet all applicable and expected commonwealth and departmental requirements as determined by each entity to serve in the capacity of a municipal police officer. Departmental management will work with you and the commonwealth to determine what the applicable requirements are.”

Pell opted to retire the next month.

The whistleblower said the state Attorney General’s office is investigating the township regarding what they called a “ghost” employee.  However, the Attorney General’s spokesperson had no comment when asked about any investigation into Lower Makefield Township’s payroll practices.

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Resident Asks State Officials to Remove Rude Lower Makefield Supervisor

A Lower Makefield woman was outraged when Supervisor John Lewis was caught laughing and swearing at elderly people during an August 9 meeting about flooding in the Maplevale Drive neighborhood. Now she wants state officials to do something about his bad behavior.

Lisa Mason Contawe told Sen. Steve Santarsiero (D-Bucks), “This is your responsibility to deal with the horrific treatment of Lower Makefield township toward the flooded neighborhood of Maplevale.

“For John Lewis, a member of leadership, to disparage an elderly man is unacceptable, and to ignore the emotional pleadings of an elderly woman is an abomination. I will forward this to every church and senior center in this district. And, of course, this video and this email will be given to the opposition during election season.”

At the meeting, resident Patricia Gamble spoke about the flooding, followed by Richard Adams.

In the moments between the two, Lewis — who was participating via video stream, was heard saying “Sh*t,” and then laughing.

Gamble, 77, was uncertain whether Lewis’ rude reaction was aimed at her or Adams, who, she said, “did a lot of investigations and is trying very hard to help the township with our flooding problem.”

She was having a family party the night of the flood, and along with her husband’s car, relatives and friends also lost six vehicles. The flood left three feet of mud and muck in her basement, and she doesn’t think township officials know what to do.

“They have no idea,” she said. “I think they’re just appeasing the populace by listening to us.”

As for Lewis, “In a way, it’s disrespectful. They should be figuring out what the end game of this is. Are they going to fix the situation?”

The area has flooded before, and residents are tired of losing their cars and cleaning mud out of their homes.

“You get a little aggravated after a while,” said Gamble. “They allegedly put in drainage pipes, but I could see when they were put in, down at the corner, they were nonfunctional, and they are nonfunctional.”

“This was a massive flood,” said Gamble. “Seven people were killed in this flooding at the same time in Washington Crossing. And it could very easily have happened where we are.”

Adams, 83, told DVJournal, “I don’t care for all five of the supervisors. We need a different form of government. They don’t show any leadership at all.”

When DVJournal asked Santarsiero about Contewe’s complaint about Lewis, an email came: “My staff is looking into this and will follow up appropriately.”

Warren did not respond to requests for comment.

Lewis, however, denied that his laughter and profanity were addressed to the residents.

“I made the mistake of not being muted and handling a work issue at the time,” Lewis said.

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