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Lobdell: Chief's expense reports offer clues

January 03, 2011|By William Lobdell

I've been looking through the expense reports of Costa Mesa Police Chief Christopher Shawkey and Capt. Ron Smith, searching for clues as to why they were unexpectedly put on administrative leave in November.

After poring through more than 200 pages of public documents, I didn't have to be Sherlock Holmes to see a potential problem: Shawkey had bought hundreds of gallons of gasoline on a city-issued credit card in places far from his Costa Mesa post.

For instance, during a nine-day period last summer, Shawkey used taxpayer money to purchase more than 161 gallons of gas that included stations in the California desert, Utah, Nevada and Wyoming.

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Shawkey's expense reports over a 22-month period also showed receipts from gas stations in Arizona (where he gassed up 39 times), Big Bear City and other towns outside of Orange County.

In September, Shawkey used his city-issued credit card to buy more than 155 gallons of gas, including three purchases on Sept. 19 alone in Goodyear and Mesa, Ariz. and Cabazon.

Shawkey's city-owned car — a Ford Taurus — gets a reported 28 miles to the gallon on the highway, meaning he used enough gas in September to travel 4,340 miles — the equivalent of driving from the East to the West Coast and then back East again past Denver.

Smith, the department's second-ranking official who was also put on leave, approved each of Shawkey's expense reports from February 2009 to November 2010. Both men signed the documents verifying that the gas purchases were "for official business only."

I tried to reach Smith and Shawkey by their city e-mail accounts, but didn't hear back from them. Both men have turned down the Daily Pilot's interview requests about why they were suspended, though Smith did tell the paper he plans to retire.

Since City Manager Allan Roeder placed Shawkey and Smith on leave, city officials have been tightlipped about the reasons behind the move.

Roeder declined to comment for this column, citing privacy laws governing police personnel issues. It's unknown whether Shawkey's gas purchases played any role in him or Smith being placed on leave.

City policy states that employees can't make personal purchases on the credit card — the city uses the term procurement card — and those who do are subject to disciplinary action. It also states those who approve personal purchases of other employees may be disciplined.

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