If you can't trust a probation officer, whom can you trust?

By M. George Durler, Ph.D., Educator Associate; Jing Xu

Fraud Spotlight: Unusual frauds or fraudsters

We set high expectations of integrity and honesty for law enforcement and court personnel. We trust them to behave at a higher standard. When they violate that trust, the ramifications are greater than usual fraud.

Bill was a probation officer in Tiger County's community corrections department in a rural mid-size city in the Midwest of the U.S. (We've changed all names of people and places.) He was responsible for maintaining contact with those placed on probation or work release by district court judges.

Also, as a courtesy to probationers and other county court districts, Bill supervised individuals who lived in the county but were on probation from another court. Because the community corrections department dealt with less-than-lawful clientele, it was careful to create controls to protect probation officers and other department personnel from harm, including making sure they were never alone in the department with a probationer. Unfortunately, the department failed to institute controls to protect the clientele from the actions of its own officers.

In the past, probation officers regularly visited probationers in their environments or the probationers came to the department offices. This limited the departments' ability to adequately keep track of probationers' activities. Technological advances now allow for 24/7 tracking. Tiger County's community corrections department had monitoring devices that either used the Global Positioning System (GPS) or Radio Frequency (RF) signals to track probationer movements.

A GPS monitor is capable of continuously tracking probationers anyplace in the world. A RF monitoring device is only capable of tracking individuals when it's in close to a base unit, which normally is placed in a probationer's home. The type of device Tiger County community corrections used depended on the nature of the conviction and the amount the probationer could afford to pay for the monitoring. RF monitor devices are cheaper than GPS.

Probationers' payment amounts for the tracking devices — which the director of the community corrections department and the court determined — was on a sliding scale based on a probationer's ability to pay. This procedure allowed for Bill's fraudulent activity.


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