With talk of 177 layoffs and the closing of the Stockade at the Broward County Sheriff's Office, upset deputies are fixing their eyes on the waste in Sheriff Al Lamberti's command staff and political coterie.
They glare at Lt. Col. Ricky Frey, for instance. He's making almost $320,000 a year, or nearly twice what the sheriff himself makes. Plus, like several high-ranking BSO officials, he gets a new SUV to drive for free.
How does Frey warrant that kind of pay? It's got nothing to do with overtime -- the total he takes from the Sheriff's Office itself is is $144,537. The rest of Frey's annual compensation comes from the state retirement system. Frey, you see, is a "triple-dipper."
Frey "retired" in 2006 after about 28 years at BSO. When he stepped down, he began getting both a pension and a monthly payment from his participation in the state's Deferred Retirement Option Program. In 2001, he signed up for the DROP, agreeing to retire in five years, which he did in 2006.
Now his pension is $7,570 a month, the monthly benefit coming from DROP is $6,813. Add those two together and you get $14,383 a month. That's $172,596 a year, which is $2,596 more than Sheriff Lamberti makes in salary.
That's obscene enough, but what makes it really grotesque is that Frey's retirement was basically a sham designed to snag the hefty state benefits. According to BSO records, he retired on April 30, 2006, and was back on the job by June.
"It is good to have you back," then-Sheriff Jenne wrote him in an email.
And Frey replied by happily stating how the Sheriff's Office "made the process quick and easy" to get his old job back. Frey isn't the only high-brass member of BSO to go through the retirement "process."
Today, Frey is in charge of running the jail, even though the bulk of his career was spent on road patrol. Sources at BSO say he often isn't there. Instead, he regularly gives presentations at law enforcement conferences, and Lamberti, his longtime friend, often puts him on special details that take him away from the jail.
"He's one of the go-to people for special events," confirmed sheriff's spokesman Jim Leljedal. "He helped organize the National Sheriff's Association Conference, and he's going to be involved in our Super Bowl organizing."
As for Frey's obvious sham retirement and profiteering on the state's pension program, Leljedal said, "It happens all the time everywhere, and right or wrong or indifferent, the system permits it, and some people take advantage of that ability."
I told him it sounded like a fraud on the state.
"You can look look at it that way, but it is permissible," he said.
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Yes, but it really doesn't happen everywhere. Some local governments have laws against the practice. This is a glaring example of our top law enforcement officials -- people who are supposed to stop crooks and swindlers -- gaming the state system. It's a rip-off of the state pension fund, even if it is technically legal. An honest and honorable department wouldn't allow it at all, let alone turn it into a quick and easy process.
(I should note, in fairness to Lamberti, that the process flourished under his predecessor, Ken Jenne, himself a convicted criminal.)
If Lamberti is forced to lay off 177 people, including 70 deputies, then I would say the "retirees" with the fat paychecks should be the first to go. Let Frey do what he promised to do, leave BSO for good and save some jobs for those who really need them.