Memo: Seattle officer bragged that 'mini Mafia' controlled off-duty contracts

As an FBI investigation into Seattle’s off-duty police work unfolds, additional claims of questionable tactics by officers have emerged, including a report that one policeman proudly called his fellow officers a “mini Mafia” in the way they secured, enforced, and collected on private security and traffic contracts in the booming city.

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Officer Mac Gordon, a 31-year veteran of the force, described in specific detail how the officers’ union worked to keep Seattle police administrators in the dark about off-duty work; how the off-duty staffing companies such as Seattle’s Finest overcharge and “squeeze” building owners; and how no one in town has the power to stop any of it.

In describing lucrative, off-duty security work for Seattle City Light, for example, Gordon allegedly said, “Yeah, we would really break some bones if those (jobs) were messed with. Those jobs are a minimum of four hours (billed) and most are done in an hour and a half.”

Gordon’s comments are contained in a four-page memo sent to investigators by Rob McDermott and Andrew Finley, co-founders of Bluecadia, a startup that sought to work with the Seattle Police Department administration to track off-duty cop employment.

The memo is central to an ongoing FBI investigation into officers’ alleged strong-arm tactics toward business and building managers and price-fixing of off-duty jobs in traffic control or construction site security.

Finley and McDermott were interviewing Gordon in an attempt to find out why they could not get traction within the department for their software to track off-duty hours. And according to the April 4, 2017, memo, Gordon gave them an earful, telling them bluntly that officers and the union would block any tracking of off-duty contracts.

Months later, this memo would be among the documents the FBI turned to begin its investigation.

Gordon, who could not be reached for comment, told The Seattle Times that he was using exaggerated, joking language for show. And he denied saying that it was practice to “squeeze” building managers, telling the Times that the line in the memo, “is an absolute lie.”

“That is about as far away from the truth as you can get,” Gordon told the Times.

Finely said it is Gordon who is lying. “This is exactly what happened,” said Finley, who was a sheriff’s deputy for 17 years with Pierce and King counties. “I was a cop; I know how to take notes.”

Police union leaders and supervisors with Seattle’s largest off-duty staffing companies – Seattle’s Finest and Seattle Security — have characterized the memo and Finley and McDermott’s subsequent comments as the lies of bitter businessmen who could not get their startup idea off the ground.

But three longtime officers contacted by KIRO Radio agreed that the union resisted any outside effort to control off-duty work.

The three officers, all who agreed to speak if they were not identified, said Seattle’s Finest and Seattle Security Inc. ran most of the off-duty police work in Seattle. And all three echoed Finely and McDermott’s claims five or six senior officers make most of the decisions about who got off-duty work and who didn’t.

Said one 10-year-veteran of the force, “If you were on the outs with them, you didn’t get work. Simple.”

Off-duty work is as vital and sometimes lucrative sideline for rank-and-file police in pricey Seattle. The construction boom, traffic pressures, and busy stadiums have created an almost unlimited need for off-duty cops in recent years.

Finley said at his peak, he put in hundreds of extra hours annually to augment his income as a Pierce County Sheriff’s deputy. And in that county, same as in Seattle, administrators didn’t track overtime hours.

In both places, the lack of oversight has led to problems. In the Finley-McDermott memo, Gordon outlined “management fees” received by officers who controlled off-duty staffing in downtown parking garages:

“He went further to explain that most large underground parking garages in the city have officers working them. He said most cops are paid around $300 a month to ‘manage garages even before they even work one hour of off-duty.’ He quoted the $300/month is a fee for simply managing the location. According to Officer Gordon, as managers, some officers earn $1,200 to $1,500 a month without working a single (off-duty) shift.”

The FBI is believed to be looking at charges including price-fixing, racketeering and, potentially, unreported income, sources close to the investigation said.

Seattle Police Chief Katherine O’Toole agreed that off-duty work is a problem in the department.

“Apart from and prior to receiving these allegations, SPD managers have long identified secondary employment as a significant risk when reviewing department business practices,” O’Toole said in a statement.

“Although it would be entirely inappropriate for me to share facts specific to an ongoing inquiry, I want to emphasize, as I have consistently, that we take all allegations against SPD personnel very seriously.”