Ex-police SLC union president asks for job back in the face of theft allegations
Tom Gallegos didn't expect payment for representing the Salt Lake police union in an international police organization.
He didn't know whether his airfare to national conferences in Florida would be covered or how he would purchase food or pay for his hotel. He figured it would be handled as all union business was: From the coffers of the Salt Lake City Police Association.
But when he began receiving checks from the International Union of Police Associations to cover his participation in conferences and expenses incurred as the regional vice president, he should have spoken up, his former colleagues said, instead of continuing to have the local union pick up the tab.
"What happened here was Mr. Gallegos saw an opportunity and he took it," said attorney Samantha Slark, who represented the city's civil service commission at a Thursday hearing. "Because he thought he wouldn't get caught."
Gallegos appeared before a panel of four city civil service commissioners during his appeal of the Salt Lake City Police Department's decision to fire him earlier this year.
He told commissioners he didn't realize the checks covered expenses for his travels as well as payment for his participation in board meetings and workshops. He saw no itemized breakdown, so he assumed they were paychecks, he testified Thursday, and didn't think twice until he was accused of wrongdoing.
By then, Gallegos said, it was too late. The minds of his colleagues and superiors had been made. He lost his positions with the local and international unions president and regional vice president, respectively and, ultimately, lost his badge.
"I don't feel like I got the benefit of the doubt," Gallegos testified. "It ruined my life."
Gallegos, who testified in his own defense before the commissioners Thursday, also faces one class A misdemeanor count of theft by deception in 3rd District Court. If convicted, he could face up to one year in jail for allegedly stealing funds from the Salt Lake Police Association.
According to the probable cause statement, Gallegos used his local union credit card to pay for expenses while on trips on behalf of the international union. Although he received per diem expense payments from the international organization, the charges allege, Gallegos pocketed that money and continued to charge costs to the local union.
The charges were filed in late September months after the union itself considered the matter closed.
Gallegos repaid to the union the money he was accused of using to pay for his trips, said union president Officer Michael Tuttle.
Union officials brought the matter to the police chief, because "law enforcement should be held to a higher standard of accountability," but never intended for any criminal charges to be filed, Tuttle said.
"We felt justice had been met," said Tuttle, adding the funds used to pay for member expenses are not public monies, but rather come from advertisement revenue of the union's bimonthly magazine. "We all make mistakes. This isn't one of those things where anybody wins."
Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank fired Gallegos after placing him on administrative leave as an internal affairs investigation was conducted.
Investigators found Gallegos had violated three police department policies: obligation to abide by the law, core values and integrity.
Each of these, on its own, could be a fireable offense, Burbank told the commission Thursday.
But Gallegos and his attorney Ed Brass argued Thursday that the chief's decision to cut him loose was inconsistent with previous behavior they pointed to other officers who were accused of mishandling monies and were allowed to remain on the force after being suspended without pay for a week.
The amount of money Gallegos is accused of stealing amounts to about $2,161 over the course of three years, according to investigators.
"This is a man who loved and loves being a police officer, who worked very hard to get the position that he had for many years and would not toss that aside for a crummy $500 a year that was willingly given to him by the international union," Brass argued. "He didn't question what he was being paid or what the amounts were, because these checks were made payable to him, and he would do it for nothing."
Another meeting will be scheduled at which the civil service commissioners will deliberate and decide whether to approve or disapprove of the chief's decision to fire Gallegos.
The former police union president is also scheduled to appear in 3rd District Court on Dec. 2 to answer to charges before Judge Randall Skanchy.