New charges may be forthcoming in city water theft cases

By TOM TIGANI
Sunday Times Newspapers

LINCOLN PARK — Two employee unions have until Tuesday to respond to new facts uncovered last week during a city investigation into water theft allegations involving employees in the city’s Water Department.

The probe resulted in the suspension with pay last week of Ronald Depalma Jr., a supervisor who has been with the department since 1993, for allegedly altering his home water meter to avoid paying a substantial portion of his bills over a several-year period.

Additional Department of Public Services employees also are expected to be disciplined. During interviews Wednesday and Thursday, City Manager Steve Duchane said, city officials gained information that raised “new concerns” about a group of more than eight departmental employees who are alleged to have altered their home meters to avoid paying for their personal water use, costing the city tens of thousands of dollars, according to official estimates.

Duchane said city attorneys are exchanging some information and some proposals with the Government Employee Labor Council, a union that represents some supervisory and management personnel, and the Technical, Professional and Officeworkers Association of Michigan, which represents some civilian employees.

“We’ve amended our notice to add charges on a number of participants,” he said, “and some additional actions are being taken on those.”

Those actions and a conclusion to the city’s investigation will be delayed, however, Duchane said, because union officials will have until Tuesday to respond to the new concerns.
The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office is awaiting results of the local investigation before pursuing any criminal charges, he said, “so that we don’t interfere with each other and step on each other’s toes.”

Nine water meters have been confiscated by the city from the homes of Department of Public Services employees since the probe began, and new meters have been installed in their place.

The losses were discovered earlier this year as officials were in the process of looking at possibly replacing all of the city’s old water meters with new ones.