9 things to know about CT state troopers' fake ticket scheme

The Connecticut State Police Troop E – Montville building in Uncasville.

The Connecticut State Police Troop E – Montville building in Uncasville.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

1. Troopers created hundreds of fake tickets

Four Connecticut State Police troopers, all from the same unit, collectively created 636 fake traffic tickets during a nine-month span in 2018 to make it appear they were more productive than they actually were, according to reports by internal affairs investigators.

That figure doesn’t include an untold number of additional fake tickets that internal investigators said they believe at least two of the troopers generated dating back at least to 2016.

According to internal records, supervisors believed entering fake tickets may have, at times, involved inputting phony demographic information that departments are required to collect under a state law aimed at identifying and ultimately preventing racial profiling by police officers conducting traffic stops. One of the troopers said he did not enter fabricated demographic data.

All four troopers worked in Troop E, which as of 2019 staffed about 60 officers to patrol hundreds of miles of roadways across 16 towns in the southeast corner of the state, including sections of major interstate highways surrounding two popular casinos.

2. They did it to gain favor, perks

Investigators wrote that the four troopers, as a result of appearing more productive by creating fake tickets, received various benefits, including specialty vehicles, avoiding being transferred to less desirable locations and positive evaluations, which can lead to better assignments, promotions and pay raises.

Records show at least two of the troopers had received a specialty cruiser – an unmarked Dodge Charger – in part because of their increased productivity.

Even so, agency officials wrote in a report that the department did not have a ticket quota system, referring to the practice of specifying how many citations an officer must issue within a specified timeframe.

Connecticut, like many other states, bans such quotas. But, state law does allow the number of tickets written by an officer to be considered for performance evaluations, provided it’s not the sole factor assessed.

The report acknowledged some drivers believe a quota system exists. “There is the public perception the citizens are paying Troopers to conduct a job function they are required to fulfill.”

3. The troopers avoided serious consequences

Other phony ticket schemes have led to criminal charges against police officers in Connecticut and numerous other states. But these four troopers avoided such serious consequences, even after Connecticut State Police supervisors discussed among themselves whether the troopers possibly violated criminal law.

Two troopers retired and avoided punishment altogether, records show; they are now collecting pensions of nearly $70,000 annually. The other two troopers received suspensions of two days and 10 days and were transferred to new units.

One trooper was later arrested on workers’ compensation fraud charges for allegedly continuing to run his side business while out on disability for the state police. His court case is pending. He remains employed by the department, which paid him $109,404 last year.

4. Experts said, in their view, the reports describe criminal misconduct

Mike Lawlor, a University of New Haven criminal justice professor and a member of the Connecticut Police Officers Standards and Training Council, which certifies officers, said, in his opinion, the internal affairs documents describe felony behavior by the troopers, such as forgery and making false statements and questioned why no charges were brought.

“It’s a crime to do that,” Lawlor said. “Allegations like this seriously undermine confidence in the law enforcement system.”

Shamus Smith, a criminal justice professor at John Jay College for Criminal Justice in New York City and a former officer, said, in his view, what the department uncovered was criminal. “You are forging a legal document,” Smith said. “The officers are not going to see it that way, but it's a cause for serious action.”

“You can say you are not harming anyone, but you are harming the taxpayer. It can jeopardize public safety,” Smith added. “I speculate that because no one was measurably harmed there would not be grounds for pursing a charge, which is a bunch of hog wash. There has to be some sanction.”

5. Why weren’t criminal charges filed?

Mellekas said he was not in charge of the force when the investigations began and did not know if the cases were referred externally to the Chief State’s Attorney for possible criminal charges.

Mellekas was a member of the agency's command staff when the investigations began. Mellekas’ tenure as the department’s commanding officer began in Jan. 2019, a few months after the internal probes launched. “I can’t imagine not running it by the state’s attorney,” he said in a phone interview this month.

A spokeswoman for the Chief State’s Attorney, when asked if state police ever referred the cases to that office, said this week the office’s Division of Criminal Justice was “unable to locate any records that reflect the Division received a referral from the Connecticut State Police regarding this matter.”

Mellekas said if, at the onset of an internal probe, department investigators suspect an officer may have broken the law, they are supposed to immediately escalate the case to a different internal team. He said he also did not know if that step was taken, but pointed out records indicate the department’s investigation was based on violations of rules and regulations.

Mellekas said he does not believe the department’s racial profiling data was impacted. He also stressed the officers did not receive any direct financial gain from creating fake tickets, which he suggested may have factored into why no criminal charges were ultimately brought. He said there was no evidence they used fictitious ticket production to cover unworked hours or file false overtime claims.

“The only benefit they gained is activity on the performance review,” Mellekas said. “It’s still troubling. But that’s the only benefit. There was no financial gain.”

6. State police head says cases would be handled differently today

Mellekas said if officers were found creating fake tickets now, the department would take a different approach. “If it happened today, it would be a different review, and it’s different personnel,” Mellekas said.

“It’s very disturbing what they did and the reason for it,” Mellekas added.

“It goes against our integrity as a department ... I just don’t understand it, but we have curbed it and put it in the past.”

Mellekas said he was “surprised” when he learned what the troopers had done. But he acknowledged that other officers probably knew what was going on. “I would imagine others would know,” Mellekas said.

7. What the department has done to prevent similar misconduct

Mellekas said every officer department-wide was audited, and no additional fake ticket schemes were uncovered. Officers were warned, too, he said.

“At the time it occurred, I recall putting out that this would not be tolerated,” Mellekas said. “We sent stringent reminders to everyone during roll call.”

Mellekas said the department has since placed increased emphasis on having supervisors look out for ticket fraud. Mellekas said the department has not encountered any similar problems since. Mellekas also said the department has curbed its practice of giving out special vehicles.

8. How the troopers conducted their schemes

According to internal records, in one case, a trooper was heard on cruiser dash camera footage telling a driver he was going to “use his discretion and issue a verbal warning,” but the trooper separately recorded in a department computer system that he had issued a citation, which he hadn’t.

Another trooper admitted to investigators that he had created fake tickets and was “extremely cooperative” with investigators, according to a report. That trooper told investigators that when he stopped some drivers, he would enter into a state police computer system that he had issued a citation, rather than marking it as a verbal warning, records show. The trooper “reported he did not change the racial profiling data, however, the mere fact that a citation was issued in lieu of warning meant the affected operator was treated more harshly regardless of race/gender, etc.,” investigators wrote.

The report outlining the case against another trooper offered an example of how he created a fake ticket. According to the report, records indicated the trooper responded to an early afternoon car accident on Jan. 5, 2018, and logged that he wrote a ticket to one of the drivers involved. About 40 minutes later the trooper recorded that he conducted a traffic stop and logged that he wrote the same ticket to the same driver, the report said.

9. Did any drivers receive phony tickets?

Mellekas, insisted in an interview with Hearst Connecticut Media Group that no drivers were actually issued fake tickets; officers only entered phony ticket data into state police computers, he said.

“It’s not fictitious tickets, It’s fictitious reporting of tickets. It was a falsifying of statistics … it was numbers and statistics.”

The four troopers involved did not respond to requests for comment or could not be reached. The Connecticut State Police Union did not respond to requests for comment.

To read more coverage about these cases, click here and here.