By LIZ BUTTON
The City Council claimed it was blindsided last week to learn that former auxiliary officer John Holmes, who a year earlier was charged with submitting a fraudulent bid document for a city police uniform contract, had been allowed back on the force. The council has since condemned the police department’s decision to reinstate Holmes.
The council also revealed to the public at its March 26 meeting it learned Holmes still got most of the police uniform business after the police department instituted a new policy soon after the city rescinded Holmes’ bid award, which that allowed individual officers to seek out their own vendors and get reimbursed by the city. When given this new individualized option, many officers chose to buy from Holmes’ company.
Leading to his arrest in April 2013, Holmes allegedly submitted a falsified letter of warranty that March in order to win a police uniform contract for his company, New England Sportswear, to provide all uniforms for the city police department for a two-year period.
After uniform manufacturer Blauer Manufacturing informed the city it did not sign the warranty letter Holmes submitted as part of the city’s bid requirements for selecting a uniform distribution company, Holmes was suspended from the auxiliary force and brought up on criminal charges of offering a false instrument for filing and criminal possession of a forged document, both felonies.
Holmes faced up to four years in prison before charges were reduced to a single violation around March 12, according to Interim Police Commissioner Robert Falk, who said it was around this time he received a letter from Holmes’ lawyer Tony Piscionere asking whether it was possible for his client to be reinstated.
After some deliberation, Falk put Holmes back on the force on March 19.
“We looked over his past history, his value to the group, his participation in specific details that they are assigned,” he said.
The council issued a statement regarding Holmes at the meeting after learning from City Manager Scott Pickup in a March 20 email that the former officer sought reinstatement once the courts in White Plains disposed of his felony forgery case, reduced the charges and placed it under seal.
Independent Councilman Richard Slack, who read the council’s group statement, called the fact that Holmes profited in the long run despite the criminal charges an “ironic and totally inappropriate result.”
While it is not the province of the City Council to appoint auxiliary police officers, Slack said, the council believes the reinstatement of someone to the auxiliary police force who has submitted a false statement to the City Council “is a mistake.”
Slack said Holmes’ return to the city’s auxiliary force was granted “before the City Council even knew about the request for reinstatement.”
Questions remain as to how, after Holmes was arrested and the police department’s new uniform purchasing policy was put in place, invoices from police personnel submitted to the city to reimburse for stock purchased from Holmes’ New England Sportswear went through without raising an alarm among city staff.
According to Pickup, the police department changed its purchasing policy in June 2013 from one by which the city contracts with an outside company to provide uniforms, to one by which officers buy their own. Both City Council and Police Benevolent Association leaders were made aware of the change at the time via email, Pickup said.
Then-Police Commissioner William Connors would collect all officers’ receipts and prepare and periodically submit all invoices to the city’s Finance Department, Pickup said, a job that now falls to Falk, who was appointed interim commissioner on Connors’ scheduled departure date of Jan. 16.
Interim City Comptroller Joe Fazzino, who runs the Finance Department, said the city manager’s office would not have to sign off on invoices such as these since they were below the level of certain larger transactions, like purchase orders.
“For items of that type of reimbursement, I don’t think that we would get those up here,” Pickup said. “It was not a contract here. It was a reimbursement and [the city] probably handle[s] thousands of reimbursements.”
Fazzino said he personally did look twice when he saw the New England Sportswear name on the bills. But, he said, while he was surprised to see the name of Holmes’ company, there was nothing the city could do at that point.
“[The police] were able to buy from wherever they wanted. We didn’t have control at that time. It was the police’s responsibility,” he said.
Pickup said officers were allowed to choose any vendor as long as the vendor carried the specific types of uniforms required by state law, and it turns out numerous officers wanted Holmes. “John Holmes is a still a New York State contract vendor. His business is not bound by any restriction [that could prevent eligibility for a contract, such as a sales tax violation],” Pickup said. When Holmes was first granted the bid award at the council’s March 20, 2013, meeting, Republican Mayor Joe Sack, then a councilman, cast the solitary vote against New England Sportswear, which Connors suggested to the City Council.
Sack said when the city manager informed the council on March 20 of this year that interim Police Commissioner Falk had reinstated Holmes, members expressed displeasure they were not at least made aware of the former auxiliary officer’s request in advance.
Council members then asked questions about the city’s arrangement by which cops are currently purchasing uniforms, Sack said.
The rest of the council was incensed further when Pickup informed them that, in the months after the bid was rescinded in April 2013, many of the officers individually purchased their uniforms from Holmes.
“What did you think was going to happen if you let the cops do what they want? Holmes is around town, he’s readily available,” Sack said.
Pickup said it was during a conversation about new uniform designs toward the end of 2013 or the beginning of 2014 that Falk informed him many of his officers had purchased their uniforms from Holmes, despite his arrest. “I don’t think anyone was happy,” Pickup said, although he did not inform the City Council at the time.