Ex-police chief accused of paying himself OT with grant money for hours never worked

Published: 6/20/2018 6:03:00 PM

An ex-Bristol police chief who resigned in October after having been placed on administrative leave is accused of collecting thousands of dollars in overtime for hours he never actually worked.

Michael Lewis, 38, of Ashland now faces several criminal charges, including three felony counts of theft by deception, according to indictments handed up Friday. Grafton County prosecutors allege Lewis misrepresented on his time sheets that he had worked police details on overtime – paid for by highway safety grants – when he had not. The charges span several years beginning in January 2012 and ending in December 2017, although no thefts are alleged in 2015.

Lewis is also charged with misdemeanor counts of sexual assault and simple assault. He is accused of approaching a woman from behind and touching her buttock with his hands on Aug. 31, 2017. It’s unclear if he was on the job at the time. The simple assault charge is an alternative interpretation of the same incident; it alleges unprivileged contact rather than sexual contact.

Bristol town officials and Grafton County Attorney Lara Saffo declined to comment on exactly how much Lewis paid himself in purported overtime. Theft is considered a Class A felony in New Hampshire when the value of the services or property stolen exceeds $1,500. Lewis faces three charges, each alleging he collected more than $1,500 for a total of $4,500 in overtime since 2012.

During his tenure, Lewis applied for overtime enforcement grants on behalf of the police department through the New Hampshire Highway Safety Agency. The state distributes federal money following a competitive application process that requires police departments to submit local crash data and enforcement statistics.

The Bristol select board said it reached out to the state attorney general’s office and the county attorney in October 2017 after an internal investigation into the police department’s personnel practices raised concern regarding Lewis’s use of the highway safety grants, according to a prepared statement from the board.

Lewis was placed on paid administrative leave in October, although the board did not speak publicly at the time about why.

“The Select Board must operate with a certain level of trust with all department heads that they will act in the best interests of the Town,” the board’s statement said of Lewis’s departure. “Police chiefs are afforded a certain level of autonomy under state law, however, when the Select Board was made aware of these concerns, it took action swiftly and decisively.”

The select board said it reviewed all highway safety grants received by the police department since October and determined there was no misuse of the current fiscal year’s grants. In recent months, the board has enacted a new policy requiring that it review all state highway safety grant applications submitted by the police department.

Lewis served as Bristol’s police chief from 2010 to 2017. When he was a police officer in the town in 2006, accusations were brought against him by residents who said he and two other officers violated their civil rights by using excessive force while making an arrest and conducting a search of their apartment.

If convicted, Lewis faces a maximum of 15 years in state prison on each of the Class A felony theft charges. The misdemeanor charges of sexual assault and simple assault are punishable by up to a year in county jail. He could also lose his certification to work in law enforcement.

He is scheduled to be arraigned in Grafton County Superior Court in North Haverhill on July 16 at 8:30 a.m.

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