AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

Even after DeKalb’s overtime scandal, AJC found marathon hours

Yet another criminal corruption scandal in DeKalb County involves water department workers who faked working overtime hours and gave kickbacks to a payroll manager.

Four people are already imprisoned, and DeKalb District Attorney Robert James said more criminal charges are likely, according to an article in today's paper by Mark Niesse.

The scheme, pulled off in 2011, involved the county’s computerized time-keeping system, Kronos. After that, DeKalb's Department of Watershed Management put in a safeguard to keep such theft of taxpayer money from happening again: time clocks with fingerprint scans.

Also, there were foremen’s reports to verify that workers were on the job with their crews throughout their shifts, and the department equipped water crew trucks with computer systems – similar to the kind in police patrol cars – that track where they are and what they’re doing.

But last year, an investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that the system could still be fooled.

An analysis of overtime records found a handful of pipe crew workers and supervisors in the water department had nearly doubled their 2013 pay by logging marathon hours at time-and-a-half rates. Their time sheets showed back-to-back shifts — 17 hours, 20 hours, 30 hours at a stretch. A crew supervisor worked 111 hours one week, then 59 hours the next, records show. Another man worked every holiday and once worked 32 days in a row.

Water department managers insisted the hours were real – a consequence of an aging pipe system, winter storms, and the county’s elected leaders’ slashing a quarter of their operations workforce as a cost-cutting measure four years earlier.

But then there was the case of Huburne DePeazer, a former Watershed crew supervisor.

The AJC found court records showing that on two occasions, DePeazer was at the DeKalb County courthouse filing and receiving court papers at the same times that water department records reflect he was working at job sites miles away.

On one date, he was recorded as working until about 10:30 a.m. at department headquarters, then working at a job site in Stone Mountain the next two hours. Yet he filed a paternity case against the mother of two of his children at the Decatur courthouse around 11 a.m.

Then on another date a few months later, when he was clocked in, he was back at the courthouse picking up papers at 11:30 a.m. That day’s foreman’s report says he was in Chamblee at the time, and after a half-hour lunch break around noon, he was at a job site in Tucker.

DePeazer was foreman both days.

“I don’t know how that happened. I can’t recall that,” DePeazer told the AJC. “That’s all I got to say.”

Watershed’s director at the time, James Chansler, said there was “no foolproof way” to be sure all hours are legitimate. “We don’t have a bodyguard watching them all the time,” he said.

DePeazer earned nearly $72,000 in 2013, an 87 percent pay boost. The year before, extra hours had increased his pay 77 percent.

The county eventually fired him after he went on an unpaid leave of absence for “urgent family business,” but Watershed discovered he was working as a MARTA bus driver, personnel records show.

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About the Author

Johnny Edwards is a member of the AJC’s investigative team, focusing on the private sector and state and federal regulation. He has worked at the newspaper since 2010.