NAPLES: Two Naples Police Officers have been fired after an internal affairs investigation showed they bought diplomas through an online degree mill called Almeda University. Sergeant Joe Popka, an eighteen year veteran and Master Officer Drew McGregor, an eight year veteran, were both fired on Friday.
They each paid about $600 to get a degree from Almeda University in Idaho and received degrees in criminal justice.
Naples Police Chief Steven Moore says the degrees are worthless because the officers didn't attend class – they just paid for the degree. Both officers received hundreds of dollars in incentive pay for the degrees.
Popka received a total of $620. McGregor took in $2,660 from the state.
According to human resources, Popka has already paid the money back and McGregor has paid half. The rest will come out of his paycheck later this month.
"Unfortunately, it doesn't look good for the city of Naples, doesn't reflect positively for the department itself, even for law enforcement in general," said Deputy Chief James Slapp.
The officers bought their degrees two years ago, but now the Naples Police Department has the technology to check out universities in just moments.
"Currently you can go online with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and enter the university and it will actually tell you if it's a valid degree or not," said Slapp.
The police department may also take action against the workers who approved the degrees from Almeda University.
"We're looking at further disciplinary actions against some other employees as well as making some police changes. So this will hopefully be prevented in the future," said Slapp.
Slapp says by using a degree mill, officers Popka and McGregor put other officers, who put in long hours and hard work to earn real degrees, at a disadvantage.
"It's just an unfortunate incident, a mistake on their part and they'll have to live with the decisions they make," said Slapp.
Both officers can appeal the decision with City Manager Bob Lee.
Both Popka and McGregor could also face criminal charges. The State Attorney's Office is trying to figure out which charges to file, if any.
Almeda University referred us to their attorney and he has not returned our calls.
Click here to read the police chief's statement