A guilty plea to embezzlement charges from the head of the Capitol Police’s Office of Diversity provoked U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Judge Richard J. Leon to exclaim, “I’ve never seen anything like this in my 12 years here.”
Leon rejected Diversity Officer Deborah K. Lewis’ planned misdemeanor guilty plea on allegations that she stole public funds while employed at Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He called federal prosecutors’ claims that she embezzled more than $1,000 a crime that was “on its face a felony,” and instructed her attorneys to come up with another strategy.
To the rank-and-file officers of the Capitol Police, the case that stunned the judge is an all too familiar example of questionable hiring choices for civilian jobs in the department’s administrative division. They count an attorney who was disbarred for dishonesty and misrepresentation before being hired by the department, and a current contract worker who was fired from the D.C. government as part of a nepotism investigation, as among the Capitol Police's most contentious employment decisions.
Jim Konczos, chairman of the Capitol Police Labor Committee's executive board, said the human relations division of the department has a history of hiring “bad apples” for administrative positions that do not fall within the bounds of the bargaining unit.
Lewis was escorted from the building when charges were filed in late March and has been placed on administrative leave from the department pending the outcome of the case. David Benowitz, the attorney representing Lewis, did not respond to questions from CQ Roll Call about the investigation or the charges.
Konczos wants to know why Capitol Police hired Lewis in July 2011, when it appears the Inspector General’s Office for the Department of Homeland Security may have been investigating her alleged theft.
“That’s a position of trust as far as we look at it,” Konczos said in an interview, referring to Lewis’ job. He believes the criminal probe “could’ve been unearthed with a simple phone call to her past employer. … One phone call would’ve sufficed.”
The documents filed March 31 in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia charge that between in or about April 2008, and in or about April 2010 Lewis “knowingly and willfully did embezzle, steal and convert to her own use property of the United States having some value, that is, money.”
It is unclear whether a background check would’ve revealed the investigation during Lewis’ interview process. Arlen Morales, a public affairs official with DHS OIG, said the office does not discuss investigative matters as a matter of policy. William Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, also said his office typically doesn’t comment on pending cases.
“It is our understanding that Ms. Lewis was unaware of the criminal investigation at the time of her application to the Department and any information regarding the investigation was not available to the public including the Department,” Capitol Police spokeswoman Lt. Kimberly Schneider said in an email statement.
The Diversity Officer advises the department “on proactive strategies to prevent employment discrimination, ensure workforce diversity, address workplace conflict, and create an inclusive environment where all employees feel they are valued, respected, and free to develop and perform to their fullest potential,” Schneider said in her statement. “The office supports a variety of organizational effectiveness initiatives throughout the Department.”
Lewis was hired as the department’s second-ever diversity officer, a position that reports directly to the chief. The post was created in response to complaints and discrimination data being reported to Congress. Then-Capitol Police Inspector General Carl Hoecker told members during a House Oversight and Government Reform hearing in 2008 that the department lacked a formal diversity program or Equal Employment Opportunity office, and that they were requesting funds for the position.
In 2010, then-Capitol Police Chief Phillip Morse hired Marcus Williams to be the department’s first-ever diversity officer. Williams left in October 2010, after six months on the job. Lewis was hired approximately nine months later.
In the wake of the controversy surrounding her departure, some officers have begun to raise the alarm about other questionable hiring decisions.
In April 2013, the D.C. Department of Health Care Finance fired Kim McRae from her position as director of human resources as part of a nepotism investigation. McRae’s son and her personal assistant were also dismissed because officials said they failed to disclose the relationship when hired.
McRae has since been hired as a contract worker for the Capitol Police, without disclosing details of her dismissal from the D.C. government. The firing came to the attention of the department after McRae was brought on, according to a high-ranking official within the department, who also emphasized that McRae works in a low-level administrative role with no control over hiring or budget decisions.
The department hired Mark S. Guberman in an administrative role in 2013, despite the fact that he was disbarred in Maryland in 2006 for misconduct involving dishonesty and misrepresentation. The District of Columbia Court of Appeals suspended Guberman for 18 months, following Maryland's decision to disbar him. He was then required to complete a "continuing legal education course in professional responsibility for attorneys" to regain an active license, according to disciplinary records from the D.C. Bar.
Guberman's current gig with the Capitol Police does not involve legal work, according to a high-level source within the department. A background check did not reveal his disciplinary history, the source said, but he voluntarily disclosed the information during the hiring process.
In response to criticism of the hiring decisions, spokespeople for the Capitol Police said the department does not comment on personnel matters.