Diploma-mill flap with Naples officers may finally graduate to conclusion

After nearly three years, two Naples police officers who were initially fired after they submitted diploma-mill degrees to obtain pay increases are finally getting a hearing to fight the 10-day suspensions they received after they were subsequently reinstated to the force.

The arbitration hearing for Sgt. Joe Popka and officer Drew McGregor started Wednesday in a conference room on the second floor of Naples City Hall and is expected to wrap up today. The city presented its case Wednesday, while the officers and their union attorney will be making their case today.

However, no decision is expected by the hearing officer for two to three months, Naples Human Resources Director Denise Perez said.

"The issue is whether the 10-day suspension they received is warranted," Perez said. "That’s what is in dispute."

John Fry, an attorney for the Fraternal Order of Police union representing Popka and McGregor, said the FOP is spending more than $20,000 to defend the officers, and he estimates the city is spending considerably more than that.

"It’s a travesty," Fry said of the case.

Popka and McGregor were fired in July 2006 for submitting criminal justice degrees from Almeda University to qualify for the state’s salary incentive program, which boosts an officer’s pay by $80 a month. Almeda University offers online degrees for "life experience" that can be purchased for $595, but degrees from Almeda aren’t recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, the Council or Higher Education or the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

During the investigation both Popka and McGregor said they talked to department administrators before submitting the degrees to verify they qualified for the program.

The officers were reinstated to their jobs by then-City Manager Bob Lee after a three-month fight, though Lee gave them 10-day suspensions. Charges of improper conduct and exercising poor judgment were also sustained against them, and the officers were not satisfied with the positions they were assigned when they returned to duty.

Fry said the city failed to take several steps that could have prevented the entire case.

"Between the two of them, their 35 years (combined experience), not once have either had one scintilla of an issue before this," Fry said of the officers.

© 2009 Naples Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Discuss
  • Print

Related Stories

Comments » 22

August8 writes:

"Hmmm"

On It's face, this looks bad for these officers? But, if it becomes clear that they were guided by the City, all bets are off! I believe, that pure common sense should have controlled their actions, if an on line degree was the only requirement here, why would many spend endless hours in the classroom to gain the same advantage?
Likely, these guy's are lucky to escape with their careers, income and futures, perhaps they should just let well enough alone?

bmwdriver writes:

Give 'em hell, Joe.

PHATFROG writes:

There is more blame to share here. Ginger accepted these applications, told the guys they were acceptable, and notorized them herself by signing Victor Morales name. I am not sure about Drew, but I know Joe had a lot of "regular college classroom" under his belt, to go along with the "life experience" credits.

Also, this has been going on since July of 2006. Why in the devil would the City still need another 2 or 3 months after this hearing to make a decision?

What a waste of time and resources.

PHATFROG writes:

Quief...Tks for the clarification, I should have realized it was an FDLE hearing. I know Joe quite well, and Drew only a little. I feel sorry for both of them. You are also right, Bob Lee was a twit!

Ahhhhhhhh, I sure miss the place...NOT!

swfl_ff writes:

I agree with you guys. The city management will end up looking the fool when this is all over. Why do you think that have kept postponing the settlement of this issue. They know that they going to end up looking bad with this one.

If they were not proper degrees then they should have never accepted in the first place.

I am not fond of these type of diplomas myself but you cant go back and change your mind after the fact.

branwen writes:

The outcome of this hearing will set a precedent for a future law suit against the city if they side with Joe and Drew.

Who wants to be a millionaire?

AYFKM writes:

This is the story that just will not die. Look at the original investigation.

Mcgregor submitted documentation for his "degree" even though it did not meet state requirements concerning accreditation The original investigation shows he gave Almeda one piece of paper listing his "life experience" and listed classes he had never taken. So he lied, period.

The secretary Ginger Jones was guilty of not verifying the degree was real. She apparently trusted a police officer to provide complete and truthful information. Yeah that makes me laugh too. She was honest in the original investigation when she admitted she failed to check Mcgregors degree.

Then Joe Popka decided to follow his buddy Mcgregor and get himself a shiny new "Almeda" degree. The original investigation also shows he was told his degree was NOT valid. Joe Popka then went to someone else to have them give him his money. That person screwed up by not checking with Ginger Jones.She too admitted her error in judgment when approving Joes money. Remember there were two secretaries who got in trouble back then, Ginger Jones and Sue Little. so the two women made mistakes and were punished.

They're FOP lawyer seems proud to spend a ridiculous amount of money to defend these two when they should be lucky to still have jobs.

naplesmomma writes:

The City of Naples refuses to take any responsibility for their actions. Human Resources, Risk Management, along with the Office of the City Manager continue to spend thousands and thousands of dollars trying to buy their inept decision making skills. They continue to hold onto their positions by firing employees that not only know the truth about the City operations and are willing to speak about them. Any employee that demonstrates any ability to lead with commitment to the community (opposed to the politicians), they push out the door with little or no regard. They have demonstrated this many times over; Bob Martzloft, Beth Metzger, Tracy Brock, Bruce Davidson, Lonnie Kennedy…the list goes on. Yet, the people that lie, cheat, and steal from the City they continue to protect. All the records are public.

Human Resources and Risk Management continue to cover up the really disgusting details of people they protect and cover for. I suggest everyone read up on Sgt Valdario and a series of emails and phone calls involving a person named Cooper. Just prior to Valdario’s quick retirement and Victor Morales even faster departure, a package was received by the City of Naples…private closed doors meetings , retirements announced, quick departures with letters of recommendations. Let's not forget the fast promotions within the department, Captains and Sergeants, blessed by Morales. Too many cover ups to discuss..
As far as Ginger goes; she did nothing wrong. Ginger not only supports the officers, she works her butt off for the administration. Morales is the one that directed her and she was thrown under the bus. We love you Ginger!
Go to the City of Naples and do a public records requests, get copies, read it, and see who the predators really are; you might be very amazed to see who is running (down) the Naples Police Department. Dr. Lee and Morales are gone (kind of) Lori and Denise should be put on notice. You will find that it is not Sgt. Popka or Master Officer McGregor. Again, I say look into any one of the records of any of the Officers that are mentioned, look at their history, and see who speaks the truth.
Denise, Lori, and the City Manager spend the tax payer’s money to cover each of their personal vendettas.The pile of crapake that they drop with each decision they make continues to leave a stench wherever they go. They lie. They inflate lie after lie opposed to admitting that they made a mistake and intentionally try to discredit ethical people. They infest the entire agency.

Joe and Drew, the citizens know of your integrity and the many countless hours of dedication to the citizens. The truth will prevail and the City administrators will be held accountable (but they never will apoligize). The arbitration has taken this long because the City has dragged it out, not the officers.

The City of Naples needs Raid….and a big tent to fumigate City Hall!!!

swfl_ff writes:

Nice comments naplemomma. You covered the whole situation well. It is too bad that so many do not know the real truth of what is actually going on at the city now a days.

Too many good honest, hard working, long term employees have been forced out from the various departments while the problem children continue on playing the same old games.

It is definitely time for a change of direction in the city management. The last decent city manager was Richard Woodruff. Since then it has been a parade of ineffective managers.

Add to the mix the current worthless city council and you have the mess you see before you.

naplesmomma writes:

It's ironic that you mention Dr. Woodruff. My thoughts were of him as I was writing. You are absolutely correct. A Naples boy that grew into a Naples Man. He vested himself in the community where he was raised. He had ethics and so did the people that he surrounded himself with. On that same note so did Chief Rebel. Human Resources and Risk Managements unethical practices would be put to a stop and the people would be held accountable.

My thoughts and prayers are with Popka, McGregor, and all the Officers that have not sold their eithics and integrity out to the politicians.

ireadu writes:

Woodruff was great. Rambosk was the worst!!!!
Ginger is wonderful!

swfl_ff writes:

Rambosk was not an effective manager at all either as a Police Chief or a City Manager. He left a terrible mess at the city when he bailed out. Most people do not have any idea of how he truly operates.

He is totally incapable of making difficult decisions or seeing things through. He looks great on paper but in reality he is totally ineffective.

And now he is our Sheriff. I give it about a year tops and unless he changes his management style he should have things pretty much ground to a complete halt at CCSO.

You are right about Woodruff. While I did not always agree with a few of his decisions, I always knew he was nothing but ethical and only had the city's best interest at heart.

It was Woodruff that came up with the city motto that is still in use today:
"Ethics about all, Service to others before self, and quality in all that we do"

Maybe the current city management should sit down and read that motto over and take it to heart.

ireadu writes:

swfl,
We must have been at the city at the same time. Rambosk was a rotten chief and manager. Ineffective and a fence sitter. I agree that the deputies will discover the same.
I cannot believe this diploma mill issue is still alive!

RAGE_24_7 writes:

I coined the phrase Diploma-Mill and you know it NDN!

unygfw writes:

These problems can be summed up in two words: Bob Lee. Thank you, all current and prior city employees for speaking your minds. The skeleton that is now city government would probably not be recognized by strong and principled people like Richard Woodruff. Who will pick the bones? The answer to this question should be abundantly clear if you now walk the city halls which echo for their emptiness. Hang in there, Joe and Drew, the bad guys can't be allowed to win every round.

August8 writes:

"Well",

I'am generally "always" On the side of law enforcement and the officer's that carry out their difficult and at times, dangerous jobs!!But

By resding all of the above, most blame prior City Officials, perhaps correctly, But,You can not tell me that these guy's did not try a short cut that blew-up in their faces? Please, they are equally culpable in their own problems and again, very lucky in the out come!!!!!!!!!!

matt#206381 writes:

Get a real degree. Jeez. The idea of the incentive program is to further education, not see how many people can scam a fake degree online.

bsdetector1 writes:

Looks like these two losers had their buddies "stuff" the comments, supposedly in their favor. It doesn't change the opinion of the general public that they were trying to scam and defraud the city and taxpayers. They should sit back and shut up and suck it up. They're lucky to still have a job.

Mims1 writes:

You are all ignoramuses, just like Drew & Joe (esp. ‘momma’). Pull up the old articles and get your facts straight - the FOP is pursuing this waste of time & taxpayer money, and these 2 'officers' are liars without an ounce of sense or ethics between them. Affairs while on the job, bogus workers comp claims, you name it. Obviously none of you are aware of the concept of 'conduct unbecoming an officer’. ‘Geez, I can pay only $500 and get a college degree, which I can turn in to bilk the state & city out of incentive pay? Awesome!’ But of course it's everyone else's fault, esp. HR. Typical ignorant postings. Move on!!!!

nellbill123 writes:

Naples and their crack legal firm of Roetzel & Andress never met a potential lawsuit they did not like. Citizens need to keep in mind Roetzel & Andress is paid by the hour to continue losing cases. Remeber the Naples Bay speed zone issue, all the way to the appeals court before saying 'No Mas". That little hike through the courts cost the city appox. $300,000.

naplesmomma writes:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

CaptKidd writes:

Both Popka and McGregor are good Officers. Sounds like the HR Department started this mess. For what all Law Enforcement Officers do to protect us. The $80.00 a month does not quite seem to be enough compensation. When you look at what the so called "Top Dogs" running the City are being paid.

Want to participate in the conversation? Become a subscriber today. Subscribers can read and comment on any story, anytime. Non-subscribers will only be able to view comments on select stories.

Features