A recently terminated UT security officer says he and all of his fellow nighttime officers used an elaborate scheme to get paid for summer shifts they never worked and that he was fired for asking too many questions about the practice.
Anthony Moreno, who was popular among UT students, was terminated June 30 after two back-to-back violations, the last of which was a problem with his uniform, he says, adding that the firing was prejudiced and retaliatory.
UT officials say it’s Moreno who is retaliating, for his termination. They say several audits have repeatedly shown no evidence of impropriety but decline to share the audits’ details or evidence.
The controversy stems from a document (shown to the right) that Moreno claims is a schedule of when officers will stay home but still get paid, essentially giving them three- and four-day weekends with a regular week’s pay. UT officials have not been able to offer a detailed alternate explanation of the document or provide camera footage or card-swipe data that refutes it, citing privacy laws and refusing to provide even redacted proof.
THE ‘PHANTOM SCHEDULE’
Moreno and security agree that UT typically needs at least six personnel on campus at all times (two for each of the three zones). During the slow winter and summer breaks, however, only three or four members of the staff would arrive for work, Moreno said. The rest got paid for staying home, what Moreno called a potentially dangerous fringe benefit for those working the midnight shift year-round.
Kevin Howell, Assistant Director for Safety and Security, said it is true that a larger summer staff might seem unnecessary because there are fewer students on campus, but with construction traffic and various camps occurring on campus, more officers were necessary. Howell said his office needs at least three officers on patrol, one officer in Austin where summer session students are housed and others in dorms when camps are in town. This typically means a total of six officers.
This is how Moreno said the scam worked. Though payroll records would show six security guards were paid to show up, the ‘phantom schedule’ detailed who was working, who was on vacation and who was on the clock but not actually at work. The ‘nights off’ rotated between all nine officers on the shift, Moreno said. He gave The Minaret a copy of what he says were the first eight weeks of this summer’s phantom schedule.
The alleged schedules show a list of security personnel with dates across the top. Moreno said a ‘W’ means a person is working, and a ‘+’ means that person is paid but stays home. Other symbols indicate when an officer is at training or has taken vacation time or the day off. Officials show Hambos the July 5 schedule, well after Moreno’s letter had arrived. The only schedule that security shared showed the three people that were previously scheduled on that day’s “phantom schedule” were either out sick or on vacation that day. This confirms Moreno’s claim that after he blew the whistle, officers were told to convert their phantom schedule days to sick days or vacation time.
But UT officials state firmly that Moreno is lying.
‘We used the time sheets, roll call and equipment inventory to prove the allegations were incorrect,’ said human resources director Donna Popovich, .
A separate audit was performed by Richard Ogorek, associate vice president for administration and finance.
‘I matched the employee input with the output of payroll and timesheets,’ Ogorek said, concluding that matching timesheets with the payroll gave enough evidence to dismiss Moreno’s allegations.
However, Moreno said that timesheets were forged, that roll call was never signed off on and he had no idea what an inventory would prove. Again, he said camera footage and card-swipe data were key.
Currently, another audit by Ernst and Young, one of the four major auditing and professional service companies in the world, is in progress. Though some officials said the company had already done an audit earlier this month.
Popovich said the ‘phantom schedule’ documents were not what Moreno said they were.
‘ ‘That is not a time record… That sheet is a scheduling device in order to ensure a rotation of hours among officers,’ she said.
Howell and Jackie Smith, a night supervisor, also said the document showed the rotation of officers, though they said they did not know specifically what the rotation was or what the symbols referred to. If they were rotations, whatever they were almost always occurred around officers’ two days off, giving them three- and four-day weekends if Moreno is correct(see attached schedule). Howell and Smith referred questions to night supervisor Jay Henderson who they said created the document, which Moreno later took and copied, they said. They also said Henderson had given Popovich, but not them, an explanation of Moreno’s document.
Moreno said there was no rotation in security and that HR and Popovich would have difficulty uncovering the scheme because only the security officers and their direct supervisors knew about it, including Mascenik, who Moreno says looked the other way. All documents the reviewers have looked at seemed legitimate, he said, because after years of the phantom schedule, officers covered their tracks. He says Howell, who is relatively new at U.T. and works days, did not know of the unofficial policy.
Howell offered the most direct assessment of Moreno and his claims.
‘He [Moreno] is a liar,’ Howell said, ‘I am disappointed that he [Moreno] would make allegations about friends.’
He added that the ‘phantom schedule’ never existed and that anyone can come into the security office to see who is working at any time. Smith also attested that all necessary officers were there during the time period under question.
Moreno, however, claims that he was handed the ‘phantom schedule,’ and everyone else on the shift had one too. The Minaret could not confirm whether other officers had the alleged schedules in their possession or what the document even meant. Attempts to contact other officers were unanswered, and personnel answering phones in the security office declined to put reporters in touch with officers, saying only supervisors could speak to the paper.
LOOKING FOR EVIDENCE
Moreno urged Minaret reporters to ask for security camera footage, officer’s daily reports, which are filed at the end of the shifts, and card-swipe entry logs, any of which would prove whether certain officers were on campus. Crosschecking that with official time sheets would prove his accusations, he said. It is unclear whether that information was accessed in UT’s audits, but no one other than Howell reported reviewing the cameras, and no one reported reviewing the data of who entered what buildings.
Howell had only had the daily reports and camera footage, referring The Minaret to the Office of Business Communications for the card swipe information and payroll for the official time sheets.’ At first, Howell said he would show the documents he had but then declined, saying that revealing the videotapes and daily reports would violate the Family Educational Right to Privacy Act (FERPA), which protects the privacy of student records.
Closed circuit security footage is covered by FERPA, but only when students are in the footage. The Student Press Law Center knew of no reason why CCTV footage of uniformed officers without students present would be a FERPA violation. The Minaret asked to see images of only the officers, perhaps of them arriving for their shifts. Howell later claimed that there was legal precedent to withhold the video, but did not provide specific cases.
Mascenik cited an unspecified ACLU ruling; however, the ACLU is a staunch o
pponent to closed circuit security cameras and a proponent of open governance. Also, the Student Press Law Center knew of no such connection.
Officials also said the camera footage could not be viewed because of pending litigation, and Howell said the hard drives had been written over, an automatic process taking place every month when they are full. This could hurt the university in a pending case because of ‘spoliation of evidence,’ or not preserving documents that would reasonably be needed in a legal dispute. In some cases, it’s against federal law.
The Minaret was also denied permission to view the card swipe information and payroll. Officials cited breach of confidentiality but declined to even show documents with personal information removed.
Furthermore, neither HR nor Financial Management said it had reviewed the card-swipe data or camera footage, the two things Moreno said would definitively prove his allegations. Howell, however, said he reviewed the footage for an audit and found no wrongdoing. ‘
Howell also asserted that if he was able to show the daily reports, some would be missing. He cited human error and antiquated computer software to explain the missing reports. He also declined to show reports with personal data removed in order to comply with FERPA.
Mascenik added that in the beginning of the summer he asked several of the midnight shift officers to leave the midnight shift on a voluntary basis to help cover the construction work during the day. This created changes in the schedule, but security officials claim the midnight shift was almost never understaffed. Vacation and mandatory training also cause scheduling conflicts.
‘More officers go on vacation during the summer, but someone would always be called in to fill their position,’ Director of Safety and Security Charles Mascenik said. ‘The guys were always very helpful.’
Howell pointed reporters to the official payroll audit conducted by the Office of Human Resources, which found no wrongdoing, and to which he submitted all the necessary information to show the allegations were not true, including training day receipts and vacation logs. Popovich refused to provide the audit to The Minaret.
Though Moreno admits to taking part in the schedule, he says the diminished security has always bothered him and his wife because they had a daughter attending UT.
Shortly after Moreno’s termination, his wife Mildred, emailed a letter to UT president Ronald L. Vaughn.
‘My concern lies with the safety of my child as well as the safety of her peers,’ wrote Moreno, who says her concerns stem more from student safety than her husband’s firing. ‘There are parents, like myself, from up North, who have children attending the [University] of Tampa.’ We agreed to have our children attend your school because we did not believe their safety would be jeopardized.’
She adds that the night shift procedures mean ‘the safety of our children has been compromised,’ and parents should wonder where their tuition dollars are spent, adding
‘I would like to know what supervisor is going to be held responsible for implementing the practices which have been in place at the University of Tampa long before Anthony Moreno became an employee.’ What are the changes that are going to be made in order to secure the safety of our children?’ ‘
Popovich fired back to Mildred Moreno, writing that there were no findings of wrongdoing and attacking the motivation behind her concerns.
‘I must add that while you say your communication is not about your husband’s termination, it is a coincidence that it comes immediately following your husband’s termination,’ Popovich wrote to Mildred Moreno. ‘I have to wonder that it is related to your husband’s termination from The University of Tampa Office of Safety and Security.’
Popovich seems to be intimating that Moreno’s husband was lying to her about the cause of his dismissal.
‘While it would be inappropriate of me to share the reasons why your husband was terminated, you might have a better understanding of those reasons and department standards if you were to speak to him,’ Popovich wrote.
Both Moreno and his wife said that was ‘ridiculous’ and that they are very open with each other.
Popovich said in both letters that security was a major concern to the university.
ANGRY FORMER COLLEAGUES
Just hours after Moreno’s wife sent her initial letter to Vaughn on July 2, Moreno received an angry voicemail, which he says was from fellow officer Edwin ‘Eddie’ Torres.
‘Yo, that’s some real f—ed up s’mdash;t you did, bro,’ Torres said in the saved voicemail. ‘We really don’t appreciate it, yo. Nobody did s’mdash;t to you, for you to do some dumb s’mdash;t like that, man you brought yourself that s’mdash;t onto yourself, a’ight?’
While the voicemail does not explicitly mention the phantom schedule, Moreno said that there is no way Torres could be referring to anything else.
‘Why would he call me, hours after Dr. Vaughn got that letter, and say stuff like that?’ Moreno said.
WHY COME FORWARD
Though UT officials said the claims were the self-serving lies of a fired employee, Moreno says he decided to blow the whistle out of concern.
‘I care,’ he said. ‘I care about the students. I want them [UT] to implement policies and procedures that help the students.’
Moreno also worried about the legal ramifications of the ‘phantom schedule’ if someone is injured or robbed in an area where a security guard is supposed to be. Who is to blame, he asked.
Moreno said fellow security personnel told him, ‘Don’t worry about it, Tony,’ and ‘We have been doing this for years.’
WHY HE WAS TERMINATED
The path to Moreno’s termination started May 11, he says, when he and two other officers were assigned to go through the empty residence halls and make sure the doors were locked and all students were gone.
The halls were filled with abandoned property, Moreno said, so he and the other two officers decided to remove some valuable property they found. Maintenance and housekeeping staff regularly did this after students move out, he said. They placed it behind a desk in Stadium Center, he said. When a student complained that his property had been stolen, a security investigation showed Moreno and his fellow officers leaving the residence hall with the baseball bat and glove.
Moreno said he was confronted about the property and returned it within an hour because it was still on campus, hidden in the Stadium Center security closet. He and the other two officers received the highest level reprimand: ‘Final warning before termination.’ Any further violation would result in their firing.
Just over a month later, Moreno was terminated for what he said was a uniform violation. He had earlier received permission to wear black tennis shoes (shown above) instead of his duty shoes during athletic events and offseason hours, however, he says this was his final offense, all UT needed to fire him.
Moreno contacted the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, saying he had been improperly treated because of his Hispanic race. They offered to mediate between UT and Moreno, and the results of the meeting are pending.
The “Phantom Schedule”: Fired Officer Alleges Security Scheme
Timeline of The Minaret’s Investigation of Moreno’s Claims and UT’s Respo
EDITORIAL: Balancing on a delicate line