Cops indicted in off-duty work scheme plead not guilty

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PHOENIX -- Three Phoenix police officers and one former officer indicted in an alleged off-duty work scheme pleaded not guilty when they were arraigned Wednesday morning.

The three-year investigation looked at more than two dozen officers.

Sgt. Benjamin Sywarungsymun, Officer Steve Peck and Officer Aaron Lentz face theft charges. George Contreras, a former officer and the alleged mastermind, was also indicted.

According to investigators, the four accepted as much as $16,000 for work they never did.

Dozens of other officers were investigated in connection with the alleged scheme, but no other charges have been filed.

Documents obtained by 3TV show that Contreras set up a business called Raptor Services and took payments from companies for security services before those services were provided. He then told the companies that he would be responsible for paying the officers.

The paper trail shows many payments from the Raptor Services bank account, which was controlled solely by Contreras, that investigators found questionable, including credit-card payments and what appeared to be personal purchases for items like airfare, jewelry, clothing and groceries, among other things.

While Contreras and other officers allegedly were getting paid for work they never did, other officers who did do the contracted work complained about bounced checks and delayed payments from Raptor Services.

At least one more indictment reportedly was pending in the case. Sgt. Sean Drenth, the officer who was found shot to death outside his patrol car on Oct. 18, reportedly knew he was about to be indicted.

While Drenth's death remains a mystery, investigators said just last week that it could be related to this off-duty work scheme. The officers who were under investigation have been ordered to provide DNA samples. At a news conference before Thanksgiving, detectives said they are trying to determine the source of some evidence found at the scene of Drenth's death.

As Contreras was leaving court, 3TV's Javier Soto asked him about the possible connection between the between the alleged scheme and the Drenth's death. Contreras' lawyer answered, saying there is no connection. He added that Contreras and Drenth were the best of friends.

The next court proceedings in this case will take place in January.