By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org
A Broward Sheriff’s Office deputy and reality television star is under criminal investigation for falsifying records, Broward Bulldog has learned.
Deputy Jerry Wengert, who starred in TLC/Discovery Channel’s “Unleashed: K-9 Broward County,” was notified of the probe in August by the prosecutor in charge of the State Attorney’s public corruption unit.
“This letter is to inform you that you are the subject of an investigation for falsifying records,” said Timothy Donnelly. “At the conclusion of the investigation you will be notified of the results.”
What prompted the investigation has not been made public, and Donnelly declined to discuss the matter on Monday.
“It’s still an open investigation so I can’t talk about it,” he said. Investigations of deputies and police officers typically begin at the agency where they work, he said.
Wengert, a deputy since 1997, remains on regular K-9 patrol duty. He declined comment through a police spokesman.
Wengert’s Internal Affairs file shows that he has been investigated at least five times since 2006. In each of those cases, he was either exonerated or it was determined that a complaint against him was unfounded. None involved the falsification of records.
If BSO has an open internal investigation, it is exempt from disclosure under Florida’s public records laws, a BSO spokesman said.
Sheriff Al Lamberti declined comment about Wengert through a spokesman.
“Unleashed” is a six-part series that aired nationally in April. The show “is a candid look into the dangerous, yet surprisingly funny world of a K-9 unit –from foot chases and guns to bathroom breaks and dog food runs,” according to its Facebook page.
The focus of the show is Wengert, his dog Bali, and partner Detective Geoff Brown – who is not under investigation.
“Whether they are chasing down armed carjackers, fleeing drug dealers or tracking down an elusive cat burglar, they are tireless in their efforts to bring suspects to justice while maintaining a sense of humor,” the show’s publicity says. TLC/Discovery has not said whether more shows will air.
Wengert and Brown also have made several public appearances with Lamberti around the county as he seeks re-election – including a Coconut Creek restaurant on Nov. 19. Joining them were Deputies Shelunda Cooper and Julianne “Julie” Bower, BSO TV stars from the cast of TLC/Discovery’s “Policewomen of Broward County.”
Lamberti formally filed to run again on Oct. 4.
In June, Broward Bulldog reported that “Policewomen” star Bower was chosen for her role despite her involvement in a departmental scandal while serving under Lamberti’s predecessor Sheriff Ken Jenne. The scandal centered on falsifying crime statistics in order to make the department and it deputies look good.
Specifically, BSO Internal Affairs records state that a May 2004 internal audit found that Bower had “exceptionally cleared” 10 car burglaries by reporting that an unidentified juvenile suspect had confessed to committing those crimes. The audit, however, found the youth was jailed when at least one burglary occurred “and therefore could not have committed this crime.” As a result, Bower was cited in 2007 for failing to meeting BSO standards and was docked a day’s pay.
Wengert was BSO’s employee of the month in May 2008 for his apprehension of burglary suspects with his dog, Oozi. Two months later, the 7-year-old Belgian Malinois was shot and killed while helping to catch another suspect
Broward State Attorney Mike Satz has assigned prosecutor Deborah Zimet to handle the criminal investigation of Wengert. Zimet is a longtime homicide prosecutor who joined the corruption unit a month ago.
Gerald Wengert was officially informed of the state’s investigation on Aug. 18.
“While the investigation is pending, your name will be added to the ‘Brady List’ maintained by the State Attorney’s Office. At the conclusion of the investigation you will be notified of the results,” Assistant State Attorney Donnelly wrote.
The term Brady List refers to a list of the names of police officers about whom the state has information that would be favorable to the defense and could be used to impeach an officer’s testimony and undermine his credibility. The state has a legal duty to disclose such information.
The Brady List is apparently a recent development at the State Attorney’s Office.
“I haven’t heard of it, but I’m glad there is one and I want a copy,” said Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein.
Broward Bulldog has filed a public records request seeking a copy of the list.