Three Phoenix police officers, and one former officer, were in Maricopa County Superior Court this morning, where they all pleaded not guilty to theft-related charges.
Sergeant Benjamin Swarungsymun and officers Steven Peck and Aaron Lentz face theft charges, while former Officer George Contreras faces charges including theft, operating an illegal enterprise, and fraudulent schemes.
The pleas come nearly two weeks after the four men were indicted by a
grand jury for their alleged roles in a time theft scheme that
cost Phoenix businesses more than $16,000.
In total, 25 officers from the Phoenix Police Department's scandal-plagued South Mountain Precinct were named in an investigation of the thefts, including the department's killer cop, Officer Richard Chrisman.
Get all the details here, but the scam basically went like this: the officers were contracted to do off-duty security work for businesses and apartment complexes in some of Phoenix's most crime-ravaged neighborhoods. The officers were all paid for the jobs, but, in many cases, no work was ever performed.
Also on the list of officers targeted in the investigation is Sergeant Sean Drenth, which opens up a whole other can of worms.
Drenth's body was found shot to death near the State Capitol -- next to his police cruiser -- on October 18. He was on-duty at the time, but was out of contact with his precinct for
about 45 minutes before the shooting.
The Phoenix P.D. has been fairly tight-lipped about the investigation, and the medical examiner hasn't said whether it was a murder or a suicide.
Skeptics suggest he may have known he was under investigation and killed himself. There's also the theory that he was aiding in the investigation of the other officers and was killed by one of them.
Last month, the Phoenix Police Department ordered that all the officers eyed in the investigation submit DNA samples to be compared to DNA presumably found where Drenth's body was found. The department claims they sought the DNA to clear the other officers.
It's unclear whether the department will release the results of the DNA comparisons.