Child welfare officer jailed (ACCOUNTABILITY!!!!)


this is what i like to see – this case is a couple years old, but its a good leader to what needs to keep happening – accountability!!!

The Pinellas sheriff’s employee lied about checking on children and filed false overtime claims, detectives say.

By CHRIS TISCH
Published December 10, 2004


Megan Gallagher faces felony charges of grand theft and falsifying records.

LARGO – Pinellas County sheriff’s detectives arrested one of their investigators Thursday, alleging that in a least two dozen cases she failed to visit homes where child abuse had been reported, then wrote fake reports.

Megan Gallagher, 25, also submitted bogus overtime slips for hours she never worked, sheriff’s officials said. She was booked into the Pinellas County Jail Thursday on felony charges of grand theft and falsifying records.

Gallagher, who has worked for the agency since March 2002, was placed on paid administrative leave.

After learning of one case of deceit, supervisors in the Sheriff’s Office’s child protection division found 26 cases where Gallagher falsified documents this year, according to officials. In most of them, she made no visits to families where children were reported to be in danger, said Capt. George Steffen, the division’s commander.

None of those children suffered injuries because of Gallagher’s no-shows, though two children later were removed from a home Gallagher failed to visit, Steffen said.

“It was very disturbing and we acted as quickly as we could,” Steffen said. “This is extremely egregious on her part.”

Steffen said the work of his 77 investigators is important and can save children from harm or neglect. The possibility that Gallagher wasn’t doing that work is alarming, he said.

“If you’re not making contact as you’re required to and they are tasked to do on a daily basis, obviously you’re going to leave children at risk,” Steffen said. “And we were fortunate in all these cases that nothing serious occurred.”

The 26 cases Gallagher is accused of falsifying all occurred this year, though officials intend to look back even further, Steffen said.

He said he couldn’t rule out that there are more cases in previous years, and that children may have been harmed if there was more deceit.

“We are going to go back further,” he said. “It could be growing.”

This marks the third time this year that a child-protection investigator with the Sheriff’s Office has been arrested.

Two other child protection investigators were arrested in August on charges they submitted false overtime slips, though neither was accused of skipping family visits.

Both of those investigators resigned, then entered pretrial intervention programs that could result in criminal charges being dismissed, court records show.

Division supervisors tightened up on overtime procedures and began reviewing spikes in overtime, but found no other people abusing the system. Gallagher’s time slips were not reviewed at that time because she filed for it sporadically, Steffen said.

Sheriff’s officials said the overtime in question this year amounted to about $2,000.

A fellow investigator became concerned during a visit with a family that Gallagher had supposedly visited earlier this year, officials say. When questioned by the second investigator, the family said Gallagher had never called or visited their home. A report filled out by Gallagher said she had.

“This family said they didn’t even know anyone by the name of Gallagher, had never seen her or been contacted by her,” Steffen said. “Of course, this raised a red flag. The information was practically totally fabricated.”

Steffen said he assigned four investigators to meet with the families that Gallagher had failed to visit. Of the 160 or so cases she was assigned in the first eight months of this year, she did not visit 26, sheriff’s officials said.

Officials said they did not know what Gallagher was doing when she said she was visiting with at-risk families.

Steffen said Gallagher used similar descriptions in most of the reports she is accused of falsifying, including often saying that dishes were piled high in the sink. Steffen said supervisors have been reminded to be vigilant when reviewing investigators’ work and to look for such repetitive descriptions.

In 1999, the Sheriff Office replaced the state’s Department of Children and Families in investigating child abuse cases.

Steffen said there are no plans for changes in management practices and said the accusations against Gallagher are not reflective of the division.

“Most of our people are honest,” he said.

[Last modified December 11, 2004, 19:12:00]

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