For six Antioch police officers hit with felony charges in August, the year-plus FBI probe into corruption, misconduct and misdeeds amounted to months of vacation funded from city coffers. Placed on paid leave after the city was alerted to allegedly illegal behavior, one of the officers relocated to Hawaii. Another threw a pool party.
All collected paychecks for months while awaiting resolution of the investigation, records and sources say. By the time they were charged last month, the officers — Morteza Amiri, Calvin Prieto, Andrea Rodriguez, Eric Rombough, Devon Wenger and Ben Padilla — had received a combined $1. 79 million in pay and benefits dating back to January 2022, according to payroll records released at the request of this news organization.
In a short statement, Antioch Mayor Lamar Thorpe — who publicly called for the officers to be fired throughout 2023 — urged the officers to reimburse the city for the money they earned while under investigation. “Those dollars were not earned and should be returned to the taxpayers of our city,” Thorpe said Friday. The six officers were among 14 current and former Antioch and Pittsburg officers charged in four federal indictments and four local criminal complaints, with allegations ranging from major civil rights violations — including assaulting citizens, mostly those of color, for sport — to accepting tequila bottles as bribes to get rid of traffic tickets.
Another three of the 14 officers — all from Antioch — had voluntarily departed at earlier dates during the probe. Unlike Antioch, the city of Pittsburg — which had three officers ensnared in the investigation — confronted its allegedly crooked officers still employed by the agency with evidence of wrongdoing, and they resigned last year, multiple law enforcement sources said. The other two Pittsburg officers charged had already left when the investigation began.
Since the charges were filed, the city has shifted the indicted officers still working at the agency to unpaid leave and is now seeking to terminate them. After receiving letters of the city’s intent, officers have up to 10 days to request a so-called Skelly hearing, an opportunity for them to refute those charges. Multiple sources including Councilmember Tamisha Torres-Walker have said Amiri, Prieto and Rodriguez received such letters, while Wenger resigned earlier this year, and Rombough’s employment ended after he was charged, though it’s not clear whether he resigned or simply agreed not to contest his termination.
The circumstances of Padilla’s current employment could not be confirmed. Attorneys for Rombough, Amiri and the city’s police union didn’t respond to requests for comment. Torres-Walker said that between August and September, five letters-of-intent-to-terminate went out to Antioch police officers on leave.
That includes Prieto and Rodriguez, who have sued Torres-Walker for publicly blasting them on social media after an incident in which the officers detained her two sons. Prieto and Rodriguez, along with Padilla, are accused of accepting meals and tequila to quash traffic tickets. “I don’t know if all were fired, but everyone who was indicted or facing criminal charges was terminated,” she said, referring to the officers still with the department at the time of the charges.
Acting City Manager Kwame Reed had no comment other than to say “the process is ongoing. ” The city has refused to identify when each officer was placed on leave, but some including Amiri and Rombough were put on paid leave in early 2022, according to multiple law enforcement sources, after federal agents and Contra Costa District Attorney inspectors served search warrants at several officers’ homes and at the Antioch Police Department, seizing cellphones and other evidence from them. They remained on leave while a grand jury weighed criminal charges against them.
The payroll records also show that the city has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to officers currently on leave while under internal investigation for sending racist, sexist and homophobic text messages, including repeated use of racial slurs and remarks where some officers admitted to racial profiling. The investigation into the text messages — which involved 44 officers, almost half of the department — remains open. Antioch police have so far refused to confirm how many of those officers were put on leave.
Earlier this year, the Antioch Police Department issued documents saying that several officers — including Amiri and Rombough — were on “industrial injury leave” and therefore couldn’t be subpoenaed to testify in a pending murder case. The defense-issued subpoenas sought officers’ testimony about racism within the department, which a judge ultimately ruled wasn’t necessary. Defense attorneys said several of the officers were seen operating machinery, throwing a pool during the course of their leaves.
Sean Patrick Farley, a private investigator working for one of the defense attorneys, told this news organization that while serving subpoenas he saw Rombough climbing down from his raised 4×4 truck after picking up his child from school, near his Mediterranean-style home in Fairfield’s pastoral Green Valley. And when Farley and his partner visited Amiri’s five-bedroom house as sounds of a pool party drifted in from the backyard, Amiri hid inside while his wife, dressed in a beach coverup, implored the duo to please “don’t embarrass our guests” and leave. “Whatever medical issues that were going on with him that were preventing him from attending court, they certainly weren’t preventing him from having a barbecue and social event with a large number of family and friends,” Farley said in an interview with this news organization.
“If we’re now at a point where it’s time to answer for your crime and the answer to that is, ‘Well, they’re injured and we’re gonna offer them their pensions and send them home with protected coverage for their family,’ how does the community respond to that?” Farley asked. “Where’s the level of trust? Where does it stop?” Amiri’s pay includes an incentive pay bump the department gives college-educated officers — a pay increase federal prosecutors say he obtained by getting a woman to fraudulently take online courses for him. While the FBI was investigating whether Amiri illegally obtained this 5 percent raise — and a federal grand jury ultimately decided there was enough evidence he had — Amiri received $353,440.
60 in salary and benefits, the records show. Rombough made $309,287 in pay and benefits over the same period, according to records. Other indicted Antioch officers left the department while the FBI investigation was pending, including Officer Daniel Harris, who is accused of steroid distribution, and Community Service Officer Samantha Peterson, who’s accused of the alleged degree scheme.
Officer Timothy Manly Williams, who is charged with interfering with a wiretap investigation, left well beforehand in mid-2021. Wenger resigned earlier this year but not until after he received $73,766. 01 in gross pay while on administrative leave, records show.
By the time the FBI went looking to arrest him on charges of steroid distribution and conspiracy to violate civil rights, he had left the Bay Area for Hawaii, court records show. Many of the officers are now unable to seek other law enforcement jobs after being decertified by a state oversight agency. Those include Amiri, Rombough, Wenger, Harris, Manly Williams, as well as former Pittsburg officers Ernesto Mejia-Orozco, Amanda Nash, Patrick Berhan, Brauli Rodriguez-Jalapa and Armando Montalvo, who have all been criminally charged.