Chesco sheriff paid boyfriend $67K in ‘unmerited’ overtime, controller alleges

Sheriff Carolyn

Sheriff Carolyn "Bunny" Welsh holds up a picture from her meeting with President Donald Trump on February 7, 2017. (Laura Benshoff/WHYY)

Chester County Sheriff Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh authorized tens of thousands of dollars in overtime payments to her live-in domestic partner, according to a recent report by the county controller’s office.

Deputy Sheriff Harry McKinney, who heads the Chester County Sheriff’s K-9 unit, has lived at the same residence as Welsh for more than a decade. They also own a business together.

From Jan. 1, 2016 to Dec. 31, 2018, Welsh approved $67,335.25 in overtime for McKinney, including during weeks when he worked fewer than 40 hours, according to the report. 

In at least one case, McKinney claimed 23 hours of overtime in one day.

“Because they live together, by artificially increasing his salary, she is increasing her household income, which personally benefits her,” said County Controller Margaret Reif. “Honestly … it looks like even the most basic of departmental policies were not enforced when it came to her boyfriend.”

Welsh refuted that the overtime was improper, and said she planned to challenge the findings.

“There’s no abuse of overtime by anyone, and that will be proven,” Welsh said. “I think it’s very unfortunate for the citizens of Chester County that the controller has launched this attack.”

The report alleges that McKinney, who has supervisory responsibilities, was classified as an entry-level deputy so he could qualify for overtime, and with that additional compensation, he became the highest paid employee in the sheriff’s department. The majority of that overtime was attributed to “care of canines.”

For comparison, the audit also looked at how much overtime other K-9 handlers received, and found many took care of the dogs during their normal working hours or received compensation time for that work. All received far less overtime than McKinney. Reif said her investigation grew out of earlier work looking into charitable contributions made to the K-9 unit, which was ultimately referred to the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office.

Chester County also caps its employees’ overtime at 30% of their salary, unless an exception is granted by the county commission, which McKinney exceeded in each year examined.

McKinney did not respond to an emailed request for comment, and a representative reached at the sheriff’s office said McKinney was out on dog detail at the time.

The controller’s office has filed a personal civil action against Welsh to reclaim the money under a statute in the county code.

Much of the overtime submitted “appears to be unearned and unmerited,” reads the report. “These funds ultimately could have been redirected elsewhere for the benefit of the County of Chester and the taxpayers.”

Welsh has 60 days from the filing to appeal the decision in Common Pleas court. She said she believed that the overtime was proper under the Fair Labor Standards Act, which calls for compensating K-9 officers for work done during off-hours. Welsh also said additional documentation she has provided to the controller clears her of wrongdoing.

Reif shared those documents, which are labeled “attendance/leave authorization requests.” They show McKinney requesting overtime for K-9 care, searches related to bomb threats, and tracking related to law enforcement investigations. One entry is labeled “USSS Protectee Visit, U.S. Secret Service, Trump West Chester,” which appears related to a campaign stop then-candidate Donald Trump made in April 2016.

Reif said these documents are not official and do not disprove the findings in her report.

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