4 CT troopers fabricated hundreds of tickets to gain favor, perks. They avoided serious consequences.

State police supervisors discussed whether the troopers possibly violated criminal law
A sign outside of the Connecticut State Police Troop E – Montville building in Uncasville.
Ned Gerard/Hearst Connecticut Media

I n the fall of 2018, Connecticut State Police superiors made a troubling discovery: Four troopers, all from the same unit, had collectively created hundreds of fake traffic tickets to make it appear they were more productive than they actually were.

The troopers did so for their own personal benefit – to curry favor and perks from supervisors, according to newly obtained internal affairs reports.

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.

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.”

The head of State Police, Colonel Stavros 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.”

Connecticut State Police Colonel Stavros Mellekas speaks to the media during a press conference at the agency's headquarters in Middletown in 2020.

Connecticut State Police Colonel Stavros Mellekas speaks to the media during a press conference at the agency's headquarters in Middletown in 2020.

Christian Abraham / Hearst Connecticut Media

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.

“As soon as they see criminality, we refer it to our own criminal investigative unit,” Mellekas said. “This was [handled as] rules and regulations.”

Indeed, in at least two of the cases, a form signed by an internal investigator dated in November 2018, has boxes checked indicating the case was classified under “rules and regulations” and “expectations of performance,” while a box for “criminal” classification is left blank.

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

Reports show internal investigators discovered at least two of the troopers had been creating fake tickets for years, dating back at least to 2016.

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. “But this was isolated to that particular troop.”

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.

“Making the supervisors aware of the possibility they could do that and that all should be on the lookout for that,” Mellekas said.

Mellekas said the department has not encountered any similar problems since.

An exterior view of the state police and Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection headquarters building in Middletown.

An exterior view of the state police and Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection headquarters building in Middletown.

Christian Abraham/Hearst Connecticut Media

According to internal records, supervisors believed entering fake tickets may have, at times, involved inputted 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.

Mellekas said he does not believe the department’s racial profiling data was impacted. “They could not have skewed that,” he said.

Still, Mellekas insisted 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.”

Mellekas 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.

“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.”

Records show at least two of the troopers had received a specialty cruiser – an unmarked Dodge Charger – in part because of their increased productivity. Mellekas said the department has curbed its practice of giving out special vehicles.

A state police stetson hat, front, worn by all sworn troopers in Connecticut.

A state police stetson hat, front, worn by all sworn troopers in Connecticut.

Christian Abraham / Hearst Connecticut media

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.”

Lawlor said legislators should pass a new law mandating allegations against officers, such as creating fake tickets and other serious offenses, are automatically forwarded to prosecutors to decide whether to bring criminal charges. Currently, only cases involving a death or allegations of serious excessive force at the hands of an officer are automatically referred to an outside agency, the new Office of Inspector General, which can file criminal charges in such cases.

“Prosecutors need to do their jobs, and you have to give this information,” Lawlor said. “There is such an obvious conflict of interest if you rely on the [police] department to make the decision.”

Lawlor said police departments should routinely check data entered into their systems.

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.

The documents described in this story were obtained by Hearst Connecticut Media Group through Freedom of Information Act requests. The reports include the full investigative file for two of the four troopers. For the other two troopers, the news outlet obtained summarized conclusions of the department’s investigations and last month requested additional records about those cases; those requests are pending.

The scheme

Internal reports show the four troopers collectively created 636 fictitious traffic tickets during a nine-month stretch supervisors audited, from January through September 2018.

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. The unit, which is the primary police force for seven of those towns, operates out of a station in Montville and fielded nearly 25,000 emergency calls in 2018.

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

Internal reports say that a Troop E supervisor, while preparing routine quarterly evaluations, noticed an anomaly in the statistical data for one trooper and began digging.

The supervisor uncovered a variety of inconsistencies with tickets and other records the trooper had submitted as well as with dash camera footage of traffic stops. The supervisor found that the numbers in one computer system tracking how many the tickets the trooper had logged – and which “was widely known among troopers” to be what supervisors used for evaluating troopers’ productivity – were significantly higher than the ticket figures in another system.

The reports said the supervisor knew the lower figures in the second system were correct because it has features in place “so you could not fabricate a citation unless you actually issued one.”

The supervisor then began checking ticket records for other troopers and found more discrepancies. He alerted his boss. Officials audited all of Troop E, and according to Mellekas, eventually audited the entire department but no additional fake ticketing schemes were uncovered.

Supervisors knew what they uncovered was serious, potentially criminal. The head of Troop E at the time, Lieutenant Todd Harbeck, avoided talking to at least one of the troopers under scrutiny about the discrepancies “because of the magnitude of the potential violation.” Instead, Harbeck alerted higher-ranking officials and internal investigators. Internal investigators reviewed court citation records to help them confirm the tickets were fake.

In a memo to his boss, Harbeck described factors that could further elevate the severity of the troopers’ wrongdoing. He wrote that he did not know if any fake tickets were potentially created while troopers were working grant-funded overtime shifts to prevent drunk driving or if troopers, in order to create fake tickets, potentially misused a statewide database filled with individuals’ criminal histories and other sensitive personal information.

Harbeck also explained that 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.

Harbeck wrote that, as far as he and another supervisor knew, the computer system requires troopers to submit racial profiling data when recording that they’ve issued a citation. Under state law, police officers to must document a driver’s race, ethnicity, age and gender when making traffic stops; the law is designed to find and stop officers who pull drivers over due to bias and discrimination.

“It is believed that fake racial profiling data was entered at the time these bogus traffic stops were cleared,” Harbeck wrote in his memo.

“If that [fake] data was created there is a possible violation of 53A-139 Forgery 2nd Degree; falsely completing a public record because those statistics are required under the Alvin Penn Racial Profiling Prohibition Act (CT Gen Stat 54-11-54-1m) which mandates racial profiling data to be reported,” Harbeck added.

Attached to Harbeck’s memo was a copy of the state’s law for second-degree forgery , which is a felony.

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.

Connecticut State Police Troop E – Montville, in Uncasville, Conn. Aug. 3, 2022.
Connecticut State Police Troop E – Montville, in Uncasville, Conn. Aug. 3, 2022. Ned Gerard/Hearst Connecticut Media

Other fake ticket scams

In recent years, state and local police officers across the country have been accused of creating fake traffic tickets, with numerous cases leading to criminal charges, including in Louisiana , Delaware , New Mexico , Florida , San Jose , New York City , Boston and Dallas .

It's happened in Connecticut, too. In February, Norwalk Police Officer Edgar Gonzalez was arrested after investigators found he had created more than 30 fake traffic tickets over a four-month span. He was charged with felonies: five counts of third-degree computer crime and five counts of second-degree forgery. The case remains pending in court.

The Norwalk Police Department said it started the investigation internally and Gonzalez resigned amid that probe. The department shared its preliminary findings with the state’s attorney’s office to pursue criminal charges. The department said it did not know what motivated Gonzalez to fabricate the tickets.

And, just several months before Connecticut State Police supervisors discovered four of its troopers had created fictitious tickets, misconduct involving phony citations was exposed in a neighboring state that generated high-profile attention, outcry and criminal charges.

In early 2018, the Massachusetts State Police disbanded its Troop E and instituted other reforms after discovering many troopers in that unit had for years been writing fake tickets to make it appear they were working when they actually weren’t, according to The Boston Globe.

Troopers collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in pay despite skipping shifts – including federally-funded overtime assignments – in which they were supposed to have been stopping dangerous drivers, authorities said.

For the four Connecticut troopers, Mellekas said, there was no evidence they used fictitious ticket production to cover unworked hours or file false overtime claims.

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.

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.”

Dan Barrett, legal director for the Connecticut Chapter of the ACLU, said handing out specialty cruisers for increased production provides an incentive to boost ticket numbers.

“If they are being incentivized by perks like special cruisers there is going to be a temptation to do this and you should not be surprised at the outcome,” Barrett said. “If you can get a nice cruiser and a promotion, its human nature.”

Barrett added: “The state police for a very long time have had a pattern of handling everything in-house, which usually is shorthand for protecting our own. They also could not be the only ones. They have stumbled onto an example of misconduct and a wide-open backdoor to misconduct.”