Snouts in the Trough, Hooves in the Till: Why You Shouldn’t Donate to Police Charities

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The median annual household income in Idaho is roughly $49,000. Mark Furniss, 46, was making almost $20,000 a year in excess of that figure when he resigned from his job as a Boise Police Officer on October 20, the same day he and his wife Sara filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. At the time, Sara was employed as a “safe schools assistant” in the recently created West Ada School District.

Together, Mark and Sara Furniss easily cleared $100,000 a year in salary and benefits, which is more than enough for their family of four to enjoy a very comfortable lifestyle in Boise. Yet Mark and Sara allegedly used their positions as president and office manager, respectively, with Treasure Valley Lodge #11 of the Fraternal Order of Police to embezzle $73,000 over a five-year period.

The couple’s pilferage from the FOP’s accounts was noticed no later than February, which is when he was confronted by the organization’s president over his use of a union credit card to buy tickets to a Pittsburgh Pirates game and make more than $500 in personal purchases at a department store. A forensic audit was conducted, which quickly discovered that Mrs. Furniss had been systematically overpaying herself (she drew a salary from the FOP), misusing a lodge credit card, and had caused hundreds of dollars in overdraft fees. She later disclosed to investigators that she had set up an automatic withdrawal from an FOP account to pay the family’s cable television bill.

Detective Gary Marang of the Nampa Police Department, which has investigated the matter to avoid a conflict of interest, recalled in an affidavit that the couple also used FOP funds to make a $2,700 down payment on a travel trailer. They most likely intended to make use of that trailer to flee the jurisdiction: After filing for bankruptcy on October 20 (listing the FOP as among the “creditors” who would be stiffed by them), Mr. and Mrs. Furniss reportedly planned to head north to Alaska in search of a “fresh start.”

Like countless others, the Mark and Sara fell hard in 2008 when the housing bubble burst. Their financial disclosure form lists a total of $572,992 in assets, including a Meridian home valued at $230,000. Their estimated liabilities are $384,095, which includes “more than a dozen credit cards and five charge accounts,” observes the Idaho Statesman. They had also purchased two expensive late-model SUVs. Despite the fact that they both drew very generous tax-subsidized salaries, they listed their monthly income at $869, with $5,742 in monthly expenses. Perhaps the most shocking line item in the form was the disclosure that the total value of the family’s checking accounts was $864.

In the two weeks prior to the couple’s November 25 arrest, their FOP chapter had collected more than $73,000 through a GoFundMe account to raise money for three officers – two humans and a “K9 officer” – who were wounded in a shootout with a fugitive. It would have been useful for the public to know that the people in charge of the lodge’s finances had embezzled nearly an identical amount.

Mark and Sara have two very young children, a fact that will be taken into account when they are given the customary Blue Privilege discount at sentencing time. Former Richfield, Ohio police officer Michael Simmons benefited from official leniency when his own longstanding embezzlement from the local FOP was discovered.

Simmons has confessed to stealing more than $26,000 the FOP’s “Shop with a Cop” program, which is used to buy Christmas gifts for poor children.

One might expect to see exemplary punishment imposed on someone who committed a Dickensian offense of that kind. One would be wrong to do so, when the offender is a member of the state’s enforcement caste.

As was the case with Mark and Sara Furniss, Simmons squandered  money raised for charitable purposes on personal expenses and luxuries, including electronics, clothing, tools, and tickets to sporting events. Rather than being sent to prison for felony theft, the 42-year-old Simmons was given an 18-month suspended jail sentence, two years of probation, and 500 hours of community service. He will also be required to pay back only $15,000 of the money he stole, so full restitution – which is the only legitimate punishment for a crime against property – will not be required.

According to Richfield, Ohio Police Chief Keith Morgan, one reason Simmons won’t be required to pay back the full amount is because “the program’s lax bookkeeping made it difficult to pin down exactly how much was stolen and how much went to legitimate purchases,” reports the Akron Beacon Journal.

Simmons’s attorney, Mark Guidetti, says that the judge’s very generous terms will allow Simmons to move on with his life and get another job. Now that he is tagged with a fourth-degree felony, it’s likely that he won’t find another gig involving a gun, badge, and qualified immunity.

It is possible, of course, that his record could be expunged two years from now, which would allow him to follow the “Gypsy Cop” ratline and find employment in another jurisdiction. Notwithstanding his dismal employment history, he might even be hired by another department in Ohio. Timothy Loehmann, the Cleveland police officer who murdered 12-year-old Tamir Rice, actually failed upward into a job with a larger department after his performance review with the department afflicting the tiny town of Independence, Ohio described him as someone unsuitable for a career in law enforcement.

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Read Scott Horton's new book Fool's Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan