Honesty is always the best policy
- By Bureaucratus
- May 11, 1997
A case heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit illustrates an important point: If you're a crook you can be fired from your government job even if your crooked activities occur off the job. A former correctional-treatment specialist at the Justice Department's Bureau of Prisons who also served as president of his local union allegedly took several thousand dollars from the union treasury without authorization. He allegedly used the money for his personal use and for loans to third parties. In addition this individual is said to have filed fraudulent reports on behalf of the union with the Labor Department to conceal the unauthorized disbursements and he falsified the signature of the local union's treasurer on these reports.
Consequently BOP fired him for "unacceptable conduct."
But although the former employee admitted that the charges against him were true he believed it was a matter between him and his union that should have no bearing on his employment status. He appealed the decision to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB).
The board considered this an open-and-closed case. First the charges were supported by the employee's signed confession. The board also noted that the former employee's behavior could have an impact on his job. As a law enforcement official the employee was subject to a higher standard of conduct than other federal employees the MSPB ruled. It said his behavior reflected directly on his trustworthiness. And although he did partially repay some of the money he took and stated his willingness (after an investigation had begun into his activities) to make restitution this did not mitigate the seriousness of his acts.
The employee argued that he wasn't made aware of his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination by his agency when he signed a confession which he said was extracted through "questionable methods." The MSPB dismissed that contention stating that the employee wasn't entitled to a Miranda warning under the circumstances that prevailed when he signed the confession. The MSPB also noted that the employee freely admitted he received no threats or promises to induce his confession.
The former employee appealed the MSPB decision to the federal courts continuing to argue that it was inappropriate for his agency to use his written confession against him. He said he wouldn't have made the statement if he had been given a Miranda warning and again he argued that the statement was obtained through questionable methods. He added that investigators told him the statement related to union matters only and would not be used by another entity including his employer.
Essentially this individual argued that his admission of guilt should have relevance only with respect to his union position. After all he didn't steal from BOP he stole from his union. And the bureau cited no job behavior as a reason for his dismissal.
Needless to say the court didn't bite and it upheld the MSPB's ruling.
-- Bureaucratus is a retired federal employee who is a regular contributor to Federal Computer Week.