Two former Garland Fire Department administrators accused of cheating on Review exams from 2009 to 2013 are being sued by the city for more than $1 million.
Former Assistant Chief Todd Peele, 43, and former Capt. Michael Cates, 45, are accused of using smartphones and hidden Bluetooth equipment to gain an unfair advantage over others who were testing for departmental promotions.
A third conspirator is not named or included in the suit as part of the city's legal strategy, according to the city attorney's office. All three have resigned from the Garland Fire Department.
Peele could not be reached for comment. Cates did not return a phone message. Both served the department for more than 20 years. Neither has submitted an answer to the lawsuit filed last week in Dallas County.
"By defrauding the city and cheating on their promotional examinations, Peele and Cates were paid tens of thousands of dollars in money they did not deserve," the suit said.
The city also asks that they be denied retirement benefits. The city claims it is also owed exemplary and/or punitive damages because it has suffered injury by promoting Peele and Cates over more deserving candidates.
By state law, promotions are by competitive examinations only. A department must give 90 days' notice before testing and must list source materials from which the questions will be asked. The test results determine who gets promoted.
"Each Garland firefighter has every right to expect that their brother and sister firefighters, the people with whom they entrusted their very lives, would compete for the limited promotional positions honestly and without cheating," the suit says.
Instead, the suit alleges, the three devised a means for a person taking an exam to get help from co-conspirators who had the source materials available outside the testing site.
When promotional exams were announced in early 2009, the suit says, Peele asked Fire Department officials for permission to read questions aloud during the exam, "falsely alleging that it was necessary for him to read aloud to himself to properly understand the questions."
The person taking the test would read the questions while having a cellphone line open to the co-conspirators. They would look up answers and provide them through a small, hidden Bluetooth device in the test taker's ear.
It won't be easy to fix things for those who missed promotions in the five tests in which cheating is alleged. Runners-up who score a passing grade are put on an eligibility list to be promoted in case of a vacancy. But state law also prescribes that those lists are to be kept only one year.
And those who missed the battalion chief spot Peele gained in 2009 wouldn't have the rank to have tested for assistant chief three years later.
Assistant City Attorney Michael Betz said the city is bound to Chapter 143 of the local government code in filling the vacancies.
"Whether anyone would be promoted retroactively is entirely dependent on 143," he said.
Betz said the city is not aware of any qualified potential fire administrators who have since left the department.
The law also states that a person commits an offense by knowingly or intentionally revealing a part of a promotional examination to an unauthorized person or receiving from an authorized or unauthorized person a part of a promotional examination for unfair personal gain or advantage. The penalty is a fine of at least $1,000 and up to a year in county jail.
Prosecution of any crime related to cheating on civil service exams would be separate from Garland's civil case and would be handled by federal or county attorney's offices.TIMELINE
April 7, 2009: According to the city's suit, the unnamed co-conspirator had outside help from Peele and Cates during a test to earn a promotion to fire driver.
April 8, 2009: The suit alleges Peele had help from the co-conspirator and Cates and scored a 98 on a test to earn a promotion to battalion chief.
May 26, 2010: The suit alleges Cates had help from the co-conspirator and scored a 95 on a test to earn a promotion to fire lieutenant.
May 23, 2012: The suit alleges Peele had help from Cates and/or the co-conspirator and scored a 98 on a test to earn a promotion to assistant chief; Cates called in to work sick that day.
March 5, 2013: The suit alleges Cates had help from Peele and/or the co-conspirator and scored a 96 on a test to earn a promotion to fire captain.
SOURCE: Dallas County court records