ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – A St. Johns County Sheriff's Office deputy was arrested on grand theft charges Thursday after officials said he defrauded the county out of thousands of dollars over the past two years.
Detectives with the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office Financial Crimes Unit have been investigating 43-year-old Shane Tolerico for the last month and officials said unfortunately it's the taxpayers who absorbed the costs.
Tolerico, who has been with the SJCSO since June 1997, has since been released from jail after turning himself in and being charged for $60,000 in false insurance claims.
"This is an issue where one of our employees failed to disclose that he had become divorced, which at that point in time took certain benefits away from him," SJCSO Public Information Officer Chuck Mulligan said.
Mulligan said the investigation began a month ago after a Sheriff's Office employee became suspicious of Tolerico who tried to obtain death benefits on his ex-wife, who had recently passed away.
"He maintained that he was continually married through the open enrollment sessions which enabled him to have a death benefit on his spouse, which enabled him to receive, if you will, a stipend towards health insurance for his wife, but unfortunately he was no longer with his wife," Mulligan said.
According to officials the deputy had been divorced since July of 2013 but never made that change known at the annual open enrollment session which allowed him to receive an out-of-pocket savings of $14,000.
"Unfortunately, during my fifteen years as a Law Enforcement Chief Executive Officer, this is not the first time that I have had to arrest one of my own employees. Despite many of the false narratives being advanced today about law enforcement, there is no profession that holds its members accountable to the extent that we do in law enforcement and this case is another example in support of that belief," Sheriff David Shoar said.
His ex-wife fell ill after the divorce but the county still ended up paying for her prescriptions and medical treatments. All told $60,000 worth of taxpayer money was used.
"The $60,000 however is one of those self-insurance funds that have already paid those accounts out, so that will have to be something that is obviously absorbed by the county at this time," Mulligan said.
Mulligan said the deputy also got over on the Sheriff's Office's insurance provider who was recently billed for more than $600,000 in payments. The Sheriff's Office will not be dealing with that specific issue but said that all this could have been avoided.
"The simple process would've been to declare that they were legally divorced and paid that extra out-of-pocket expense to continue to cover her although it would have been without the county self-insurance side as well as the extra stipend that he gets for a spouse who is allowed that extra benefit," Mulligan said.
Tolerico invoked his constitutional rights when questioned by detectives and did not make a statement concerning this investigation.
He was placed on paid administrative leave at the onset of the investigation but was terminated when he was arrested.