MIAMI BEACH (CBSMiami) – The woman overseeing the Miami Beach Police Department's payroll system was recently fired for paying herself for days she never actually worked, CBS4 News has learned.
Investigators are also examining allegations the woman inflated the paychecks of as many as a dozen police officers within the department.
Michelle Patrick-Harris, 51, had been with the police department for more than 25 years. According to her March 20 termination letter, Miami Beach Police Chief Ray Martinez accused Patrick-Harris of "egregious misconduct" and wrote: "It is apparent that you misused your position of trust to falsify payroll records and receive compensation for which you were not entitled."
The letter detailed five instances when Patrick-Harris would take days off but then later go into the computer system and make it appear she was actually at work so that she wouldn't lose any of her vacation days.
"You also paid yourself $1,022.57 of overtime compensation … by using a unique payroll code despite the fact that you knew your salaried position was exempt from the overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act," Martinez wrote.
Although police officials wanted Patrick-Harris charged with theft, she will not face criminal charges. Prosecutors decided the evidence wasn't strong enough to take to a jury, according to an internal memo obtained by CBS4 News. "The circumstantial evidence [against Patrick-Harris] is insufficient to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt," Assistant State Attorney Johnette Hardemon wrote.
Patrick-Harris denies any wrongdoing. In an interview outside her North Miami Dade home, she said she would never do anything so foolish.
"I would not jeopardize my job like that," she told CBS4's Jim DeFede. "That's not true."
Nevertheless the investigation goes on. CBS4 News has learned the department's Internal Affairs unit -- working with the FBI - is now focused on allegations Patrick-Harris may have also manipulated the payroll system to financially help possibly a dozen or more police officers.
Three weeks ago two FBI agents went to Patrick-Harris's home to question her. A source familiar with the interview said Patrick-Harris allegedly told the agents that even they would never be able to trace what she may or may not have done because of the way the computer system is set up.
Asked by CBS4 News if she padded the paycheck of a select group of police officers, Patrick-Harris said: "Oh no, not at all."
According to sources familiar with the investigation, the officers Patrick-Harris allegedly helped are all African Americans like herself.
She acknowledged she was questioned about allegedly helping the department's black officers. But again she denied any wrongdoing: "But that's not true what they are saying."
Because the matter is under investigation, Miami Beach police officials declined to comment. Sources tell CBS4 News that since word of this investigation began to spread among officers, several cops have come forward to report that they were accidentally overpaid and are making arrangements to return the money to the city. It seems unlikely that anyone will be criminally charged, the source claim.
The investigation is expected to take another month before wrapping up. It is not clear how many officers will be implicated or how much money may need to be returned. In fact sources say, the true number may never be known.
Patrick-Harris's attorney told CBS4 News earlier today that he is still gathering information and meeting with city officials - but he believes his client didn't intentionally do anything wrong. It is not clear if Patrick-Harris will lose her retirement benefits or if she will try to sue to regain her job.
for more features.