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City reinstates Salt Lake cop accused of mishandling union money

Published January 16, 2014 9:48 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The once-disgraced president of the Salt Lake City police union will be rejoining the police force after city officials ruled Thursday that he was wrongfully terminated.

Tom Gallegos, who pleaded ignorance at an appeal before the city's civil service commission in November, told commissioners that he never meant to steal or misuse union money in his time as its president.

Despite accusations of double-dipping and testimony from union members and Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank — who fired Gallegos after placing him on administrative leave as an internal affairs investigation was conducted — the city commissioners believed the former union head.

They ruled Thursday to reverse Burbank's decision and reinstate Gallegos on the force.

This ruling will likely be effective immediately, said Ed Brass, who represents Gallegos.

"He's delighted," Brass told The Tribune of his client, who he said "loved and loves being a police officer" at the November hearing.

Gallegos was accused of double-dipping when he used his local union credit card to pay for expenses while on trips on behalf of an international police union, for which he represented Salt Lake City.

As a result, he lost his positions with the local and international unions — president and regional vice president, respectively — and, ultimately, lost his badge.

He was also charged in 3rd District Court with a misdemeanor count of theft by deception. If convicted, he could face up to one year in jail for allegedly stealing funds from the Salt Lake Police Association.

But the city's decision to reinstate Gallegos will likely work in the ex-union president's favor, Brass said.

"The burden was on us in this case to prove his innocence," Brass said. "But in a criminal proceeding, the burden is on [prosecutors] to prove he's guilty. I hope they look at the facts."

Proceedings in the criminal case have stalled pending the outcome of his employment appeal.

According to a probable cause statement, Gallegos received per diem expense payments from the International Union of Police Associations, but he didn't use them to cover the costs of his trips to national conferences in Florida, pay for his food or cover his hotel.

Instead, according to investigators, Gallegos pocketed the money while billing the local union for the costs of these trips.

"What happened here was Mr. Gallegos saw an opportunity and he took it," attorney Samantha Slark, who represented the city's civil service commission, said at the November hearing. "Because he thought he wouldn't get caught."

But Gallegos told commissioners he was juggling responsibilities and leadership positions — both in his role as the head of the Salt Lake City Police Association and in the international organization. He said he simply didn't understand what monies he was receiving or how they should be handled.

He said 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 in November, 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's been fighting to clear his name ever since.

The amount of money Gallegos is accused of stealing amounts to about $2,161 over the course of three years, according to investigators.

He is scheduled to appear before Judge Randall Skanchy on Jan. 27.

mlang@sltrib.com

Twitter: @Marissa_Jae