Blue Byline

A cop's perspective of the news and South Sound matters

The “Skeeter Rule” could help prevent insider theft

Post by Brian O'Neill on Feb. 15, 2012 at 10:18 pm with 8 Comments »
February 16, 2012 11:07 am

When the last “Welcome aboard!” had faded away on my first day as a cop, I was briskly ushered to a dimly lit cubicle where a three-ring binder the size of the Cleveland phone book awaited. “This is the policy manual,” I was told. “Read it because you’re responsible for everything in it.”

Since then the digital age has rendered paper versions of workplace rules obsolete. This was timely because the human penchant for screw-ups would ultimately have led to a policy manual roughly the size of Cleveland. What, I wonder, would be the reaction if each new policy were named after the cop whose blunder caused it to exist? In that light one could easily anticipate the name above the next policy to be written at the Lakewood Police Department: The Skeeter Rule.

Skeeter Manos, a veteran Lakewood officer, was fired on Friday after being indicted in federal court on ten counts of wire fraud. His charges included stealing approximately $150,000 from the Lakewood Fallen Officers’ Fund.

If this actually happened then it is a wonder that Skeeter Manos managed to pull it off. His financial problems were well known at City Hall, where finance officials were served with requests for wage garnishments from Manos’ creditors. His role as the guild treasurer required at least one additional signator on the account. Nevertheless, according to a recent Trib update Skeeter Manos may have been tapping into three separate funds during his tenure as guild treasurer.  The list of victims may now include Manos’ fellow officers.

The notion of theft is shameful on its face, but the concept of stealing from widows and orphans (not to mention colleagues) is a uniquely abysmal act. Manos’ guilt, however, is for investigators to explore and for the courts to decide. For now the question of how he was capable of diverting funds is worth asking.

Manos’ financial struggles, which had peaked around the time of the alleged theft, were never communicated to the police department. This was a very unfortunate omission on the part of Lakewood’s finance department. Every police policy manual which I have struggled through has contained ample direction and authority for handling this type of problem. And a cop with money issues can be a problem.

The reason is obvious. Police officers handle large sums of cash, drugs or goods on a daily basis. They assess and value items for insurance purposes with a keyboard stroke. They may be offered bribes or favors in exchange for consideration. But when a cop’s checkbook is filled with a lot of red ink, his or her ability to fend off these unethical (and illegal) offers may be adversely affected.

The Lakewood cops were just the latest to fall prey to the thieves that live among us. The environment in which they thrive, amid good people who mingle their money in common cause, is ripe for the taking. Nobody wants the job of keeping the organization’s books, nor the equally unglamorous role of double-checking the work of the person stuck being the treasurer. So the bottom feeders wind up as the money collector for your kid’s soccer team. They are the “financial adviser” for a senior’s investment group. They are the bookkeeper for a charity.

My wife was especially upset with Skeeter Manos’ alleged theft. Because she is a CPA she is keenly aware of the damage a savvy thief can do when left alone with the books. She then lectured me on the need to do a credit check on any individual charged with handling a group’s money. I told her that idea was over the top.

Then I started thinking about it. I realized that I would never knowingly give my money to a stock broker, bookkeeper or accountant who had proven unable to handle their own finances. But that’s just what the Lakewood police guild had done.

Credit report / Image from tenantscreening.com

With that realization, I would share my wife’s suggestion with anyone who does not want the funds from their sports team, social club, professional group or agency to wind up in the bank account of a spineless thief. 1) Show the club treasurer – who is more than likely a giving and tireless volunteer – a little respect. 2) Identify a suitable assistant who is willing and able to verify the numbers. 3) Check their credit history.

And if you have to go to the trouble of writing a formal policy on this subject, then at least give it a proper name: The Skeeter Rule.

Leave a comment Comments → 8
  1. dinseattle says:

    While your argument is great in theory, a credit report does not guarantee a person won’t steal. I worked several places where monies had been embezzled. I spent months recreating the books, arguing with banks, prosecutors, police, etc., trying to get the funds back and the persons prosecuted. Neither person had prior convictions nor bad credit reports. The first person received probation and a fine; the second person was not prosecuted because it wasn’t enough money. If a person is going to steal, they are going to steal. It is just in their DNA.

  2. Dave98373 says:

    Most organizations (Guilds in particular) have external audits annually to certify their books. It is usually required for their insurance policy. How the president of this guild (or their legal counsel) did not see that this was done is puzzling to me. I don’t think we have heard the last about this guild’s financial affairs.

  3. Brian O'Neill says:

    Thanks for your comments.

    I definitely agree with your point of view, Dinseattle, but if stealing is in your DNA it will show up sooner or later in a credit/criminal report. Though your thieves may have skirted this until they met you, they will have a tougher time convincing a new boss that they can be trusted with money (assuming they submit to a credit/criminal check).

    Dave98373- I have not been deeply involved in the financial affairs of the three unions/guilds to which I have belonged. However, in no case do I recall the treasurer reporting the results of an audit. It is a great idea, however, and should be done on a routine basis to prevent any opportunity for theft.

  4. DavidAnderson says:

    “I have not been deeply involved in the financial affairs of the three unions/guilds to which I have belonged,” writes Brian O’Neill, TNT police columnist. “However, in no case do I recall the treasurer reporting the results of an audit.”

    How about when repeated requests are made for “independent reviews of the guild’s accounts” over what appear to be several years “but the requests were thwarted by (then Lakewood Police Independent Guild President Brian) Wurts (let alone Skeeter) Manos”?

    “A significant amount of money” is unaccounted for from dues paid by Lakewood officers into the guild account ($75,600 annually in dues are collected from officers). How much money is missing from the account the records for which new LPIG President Eric Bell is reported as saying that Wurts and Manos prevented others from reviewing?

    Perhaps there are other names to be added to “Skeeter Rule”?

    http://www.thenewstribune.com/2012/02/14/2026218/lakewood-officer-who-allegedly.html?story_link=email_msg

  5. elderjustice2010 says:

    ..”but the concept of stealing from widows and orphans (not to mention colleagues) is a uniquely abysmal act.” We agree…

    We say stealing from a 89 year old WWII veteran is also an abysmal act, but when your own prosecutor refuses to prosecute due to democratic name after her life savings was looted ($590,000) beneficiaries changed, bonds cashed, annuity liquidated…. that is shameful. The elderly in Pierce County have no protection from law enforcement.
    PC Cause #09-4-01399-6

  6. Chippert says:

    When I served in the Air Force my job required an extremely high level security clearance. We were constantly watched and even getting behind on your car payment could result in your clearance being suspended until you rectified the situation. Why? Just as you said, debt is a doorway to dishonesty when you are dealing with national security or in Skeeter’s case, other people’s money. A properly run charitable organization will require the treasurer to be bonded. Some people think that is enough but it is not. All that guarantees is a return of the bond if there is malfeasance and that there was a cursory investigation of the person’s record to begin with. To make sure that everything stays on the up-and-up, the organization should demand a peer-review yearly by a non-involved third party, selected by the board of the organization or someone with no ties to the treasurer. This peer-review is to insure that proper accounting techniques are in place. If the treasurer is responsible for significant sums then a full audit should be automatically scheduled every one to three years by an outside CPA. Yes, that costs time and money, but is necessary. Just as the police must be watched to prevent mus-application of power, all treasurers must be audited, not because we mistrust them, but to insure that the organization remains financially sound in its practices.

  7. djloveskj1964 says:

    I hope an investigation is completed into the President of the Lakewood Union Guild President. The amount of funds missing from this account makes it difficult to believe others were unaware of the theft. I have difficulty believing apathy in over site of those under the President’s authority and accounts under his leadership is a defense.

  8. claimsmanager4u says:

    I question whether or not Lakewood brass knew about Skeeter’s financial issues. There is also a question in my mind as to whether Brian Wurts had knowledge. I am happy to know that Mr. Wurts is now on administrative leave. It’s not a sufficient excuse to say Lakewood administration did not tell the brass. The brass should have known because wage garnishment is public record. If you go to Pierce County Linx, search for “Skeeter, Manos”, you will see that Ford Motor Credit and Puget Sound Collections Inc (PSI) had started wage garnishment requests. PSI was paid in Full January 2011. Post by Brian Hanson, Tacoma, WA

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