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US Marshal: I Was Fired for Protecting a Gay Colleague
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=35088"><span class="small">Kate Briquelet, The Daily Beast</span></a>   
Thursday, 26 August 2021 12:26

Briquelet writes: "In the summer of 2015, deputy U.S. Marshal Dawn Mahoney went to her supervisor for help. A gay woman and Army vet, Mahoney claimed some of her male colleagues in the New York/New Jersey Regional Fugitive Task Force were harassing her relentlessly, and that the office culture was akin to the movie Animal House, but with guns."

Bobby Ledogar, then a Supervisory Deputy U.S. Marshal for the Eastern District of New York. (photo: Courtesy Bobby Ledogar)
Bobby Ledogar, then a Supervisory Deputy U.S. Marshal for the Eastern District of New York. (photo: Courtesy Bobby Ledogar)

US Marshal: I Was Fired for Protecting a Gay Colleague

By Kate Briquelet, The Daily Beast

26 August 21

A gay woman and Army vet said her male colleagues were harassing her. Her supervisor stood up for her—and found himself the target of internal investigations.

n the summer of 2015, deputy U.S. Marshal Dawn Mahoney went to her supervisor for help. A gay woman and Army vet, Mahoney claimed some of her male colleagues in the New York/New Jersey Regional Fugitive Task Force were harassing her relentlessly, and that the office culture was akin to the movie Animal House, but with guns.

At one point, she claimed, someone in her office in Central Islip, New York, urinated in a cookie jar on her desk. In another episode, a task force member allegedly gazed at her body and said, “Look at you, you sexy bitch,” before grabbing her waist when she walked past him.

One of those lawmen was later accused of shoving her from behind as she monitored a woman inside a house during the execution of a search warrant. She told the U.S. Marshals Service Office of Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) that she believed her coworker’s actions were “premeditated,” records show, and that “his presence there was to instill fear in her and to send a message.”

Mahoney told Bobby Ledogar, then a Supervisory Deputy U.S. Marshal for the Eastern District of New York, that she was concerned for her safety because of the alleged bullying, which she believed was escalating and potentially dangerous in the field.

Ledogar, who worked in both Brooklyn and Central Islip federal courts and was a warrant-squad supervisor, reported the shoving incident up the chain of command—to then-U.S. Marshal for the Eastern District of New York Charles Dunne, and Chief Deputy Bryan Mullee—and pressed for an internal investigation.

But Ledogar says that after he defended Mahoney, the U.S. Marshals Service initiated four internal affairs investigations—what his attorneys have referred to as “fishing expeditions”—against him in as many years. One of those probes led to his termination last year, when he was 70 days away from retirement. In Mahoney’s case, internal affairs closed its inquiry into her claims of harassment without taking action, and when the agency investigated the shoving incident, it found her accusations “unsubstantiated.”

Now Ledogar is fighting for his pension and appealing his termination, which he claims was retaliation for exposing the harassment of his subordinate—at a time when the federal law enforcement agency was under pressure from a Senate investigation. The 51-year-old Navy veteran, who served in the Gulf War, was with the U.S. Marshals since 1995 and has received 166 letters of support from law enforcement colleagues and managers in response to the agency’s proposals in 2017 and 2020 to remove him from federal service.

Those endorsements did little to dissuade agency headquarters from terminating him based on charges including, among others, conduct unbecoming a Supervisory Deputy U.S. Marshal, lack of candor, misuse of position and misuse of a government property-IT device—a charge relating to photos on his government phone of a fugitive model’s Playboy spread.

On Monday, Ledogar filed written closing arguments to the federal Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), which will determine whether he was wrongfully terminated and if he’s entitled to his full retirement. (He also has a pending complaint before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for retaliation and harassment.)

“This is a classic example of retaliation for protected activities,” Ledogar’s lawyer, Raymond R. Granger, told The Daily Beast. “Not only did headquarters in Washington punish Bobby for standing up for a fellow employee who clearly was being harassed and discriminated against based on her gender and sexual orientation, but it sent a clear message to other Marshal Service employees that they could expect the same treatment if they, too, rocked the boat and took actions that could embarrass headquarters.”

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Marshals Service confirmed Ledogar worked for the agency from June 1995 through April 2020 but said, “Due to privacy considerations, USMS is not able to provide specifics related to an individual’s employment record.” Dunne, who left the agency in 2017, declined to comment but did not dispute Ledogar’s portrayal of events. Mullee, who has testified in support of Ledogar, also declined to comment.

The U.S. Marshals Service and its local and regional task forces have not operated without scrutiny in recent years.

In February, a report from The Marshall Project and USA Today put these local-federal squads under the microscope, revealing that while “many police departments have come under public scrutiny for shootings, marshals and their task forces have not—even though they are more likely to use their guns.”

The task forces consist of U.S. Marshals Service employees and state and local police who are deputized as federal officers to track down and arrest fugitives. The deputized cops can cross state lines to capture suspects and, as The Marshall Project reported, are often insulated from local prosecution, litigation and oversight.

When Mahoney filed her complaint in 2015, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley was in the middle of investigating misconduct and mismanagement within the federal agency.

In late 2018, the Iowa senator released a memo of his inquiry, which examined claims by more than 100 whistleblowers, and “identified a culture of mismanagement, reckless spending, favoritism, and a general lack of accountability.” It also detailed a “frat”-like environment where “senior officials appear to act with impunity while lower level employees are held to a stringent standard.”

Some employees, Grassley’s report said, claimed they had participated in internal affairs and EEO investigations, or otherwise reported misconduct, only to face “frivolous or vindictive misconduct investigations” themselves.

From Ledogar’s perspective, U.S. Marshals Service headquarters wanted to sweep Mahoney’s accusations under the rug to avoid any blowback to the fugitive task force, one of eight such Congressionally funded units across the country. (The agency also has 56 other local task forces focusing on violent offenders.)

“To have this exposed, that you had U.S. Marshals and local police officers sexually harassing, assaulting, bullying, degrading and mocking a female U.S. Marshal who is a lesbian, that’s a nice big black eye against the government,” Ledogar told The Daily Beast.

“And it’s going to come out that one supervisor defended her, and the investigation of the female’s initial complaints was done by the same people she did a complaint against?” Ledogar added. “You didn’t even let internal affairs do it? You investigate yourself? We’ve all seen a history of how that works out.”

Mahoney filed a complaint with the agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) internal affairs unit, which then punted the claims to the Investigative Operations Division (IOD)—which oversees the regional task forces.

“Nothing about this case has been ordinary,” Mullee wrote in a letter of support to Chief Inspector Cheryl Jacobs in February 2020, when he was the acting U.S. Marshal for the Eastern District. “From the very beginning, all attempts to resolve Dawn’s case have been met with obstruction. Ask yourself why IOD investigated the matter when the complaint was sent to Internal Affairs.”

“Why have Dawn’s allegations all been disregarded and taskforce personnel been cleared yet district personnel continuously find themselves subject to investigations, all stemming from the original matter,” Mullee added. “The agency’s handling of this matter has been anything but equitable. Robert is a victim of this inequity.”

Mahoney joined the New York/New Jersey Regional Fugitive Task Force’s Long Island arm in 2010 after Ledogar, nicknamed “Led” by his colleagues, recruited her. At the time, she had been working as a U.S. Marshal in the federal courthouse in Central Islip.

Ledogar told us the fugitive task force “is the job of jobs for any Marshal and any cop,” and that it’s among the most dangerous jobs in law enforcement. From 2008 to 2011, A&E featured members of the elite New York/New Jersey corps in a reality show called Manhunters: Fugitive Task Force.

“When I found out that Led proposed for me to be selected and assigned full time to the warrant squad representing the district in the New York/New Jersey Regional Fugitive Task Force, I was humbled,” Mahoney would later write in a letter of support for Ledogar which was sent to U.S. Marshals Service Chief Inspector Cathy Jones.

“There were so many male deputies that desperately wanted that opportunity,” Mahoney wrote. “Led could have given it to any one of them. Instead he chose me, a female and a lesbian. I was honored that Led, who already had a very diverse, diligent, conscientious warrant squad, was now adding me.”

While Ledogar was in the crosshairs of internal affairs, Mahoney was among the many colleagues who wrote a letter defending him. She called him “a man with pure integrity.”

“What is most difficult for me to accept personally is that his current persecution is solely based on his courageous actions of support in standing up for me, the original victim of bullying by those making retaliatory complaints against him,” Mahoney wrote.

Mahoney declined to comment for this story, and her attorney didn’t return messages. But in documents reviewed by The Daily Beast, Mahoney claimed her relationship with task force members began to deteriorate in 2014, after she became a team leader on the fugitive squad and resigned from that role because some task force members openly disrespected her. She stayed on the task force as a rank-and-file member, though one agency record states Mahoney believed “this was the beginning of the hostile work environment because of her sex.”

Ledogar and Mahoney, in their own government filings, described a “frat”-like culture at work similar to those described in Grassley’s report.

Mahoney, in a letter to Jones, claimed some of the task force officers who harassed her would also “interrogate all the young male interns about their sex lives” and question them on whether they were gay, and made degrading comments about women, including female interns, and their bodies. “It was a free for all of abuse,” Mahoney wrote, adding that the officers “had no filter and no fear of repercussion.” Their supervisors, she claimed, usually just laughed at their behavior.

Granger, Ledogar’s lawyer, has also described “a toxic climate driven by three individuals” in a 2017 letter to the inspector. Granger alleged the task force members were “disrupting the workplace by loudly playing profane rap songs and videos; sexually harassing both coworkers and student interns; traipsing shirtless around the office… or sitting naked in the office’s co-ed sauna” and “wearing and otherwise displaying a gorilla mask to mock African-Americans,” including two task force officers when they weren’t around. The accused bullies also allegedly tossed around a football scribbled with male and female genitalia. (The Daily Beast reviewed photos of a shirtless investigator in the office, the mask, and football.)

Granger also accused the men of creating a “shrine” in the office made of property snatched from fugitives and their families. “For example, if they felt a family member of a fugitive had not been helpful and owned an expensive car, they would steal the key to punish the person, knowing it would be expensive and inconvenient to replace,” the letter states. “Other times they stole personal property such as jewelry or other personal items from a fugitive or the fugitive’s family members, and confiscated contraband such as a switchblade, brass knuckles, a machete, and a sword.”

In August 2015, Mahoney filed a complaint with OPR’s internal affairs unit, which transferred the matter to U.S. Marshals Service’s Investigative Operations Division—of which the task force is a component. According to one of Ledogar’s appeal filings, the assigned IOD investigator was a close friend of the task force supervisor, who was “accused of having condoned the very misconduct being investigated.”

IOD closed its investigation a month later, calling Mahoney’s claims unsubstantiated. But Ledogar’s filing states that Eastern District brass Dunne and Mullee “were upset greatly by IOD’s decision and felt that the entire process had been biased and improper” and Mullee “felt that the Agency was trying to suppress the allegations of misconduct and was not going to allow them to be fully investigated or otherwise exposed.”

One management official within the Marshals Service told us IOD is the largest division within the agency and has a stream of employees who rise through the ranks to become deputy and associate directors. “They’ve built an empire,” the official said on condition of anonymity. “They are the people pulling the strings behind the scenes.”

In documents filed as part of the Ledogar's case, Mullee hinted at tension between the U.S. Marshals Service and the New York office: “Since this case started in 2015, you know, the district has not been the same. I feel like our relationships with headquarters have not been the same.”

“Just look at the sheer number of allegations that have been leveled against [Ledogar] that have been unsubstantiated,” Mullee stated in a filing. “To me, that just goes to show you that people were grasping at straws. They were trying to find anything to level against him to get back at him for exposing the Task Force and for bringing certain issues to light.”

In his 2020 letter to Chief Inspector Jacobs, Mullee wrote that Ledogar’s whistleblowing “set off a chain of events that ultimately pitted the taskforce and the Investigative Operations Division against the district.”

“The animosity is still palpable,” he continued. “I feel, as a district manager, that our district and our employees have been and continue to be targeted.”

Mullee said that because of the strained relationship between task force members and agency personnel, he and Dunne took steps to reduce interaction between them, including revoking the task force’s access to the agency’s Central Islip gym and secure parking facilities. Mullee claims the agency “reprimanded” them for doing so.

The alleged shoving incident, Mullee continued, occurred while the deputized officers were temporarily removed from the office but permitted to remain on the task force.

The feds would again investigate Mahoney’s claims in January 2016, after Eastern District management informed the agency that a task force member had peed in a box of animal crackers on Mahoney’s desk. This time, OPR took the lead.

The renewed probe followed inquiries from Grassley’s office, as well as the office of New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who sought information from the Marshals Service on whether it would investigate Mahoney’s complaints. (Gillibrand’s office confirmed to The Daily Beast that it had contacted the agency on Mahoney’s behalf.)

Because of Grassley’s Senate investigation, Ledogar’s filing states, the Marshals Service’s general counsel “agreed that it had been a conflict of interest for IOD to have investigated” Mahoney’s claims on the shoving incident and reopened them. Senator Grassley’s office also contacted Mullee about Mahoney’s complaint, Ledogar says.

Grassley’s office didn’t return messages.

Ledogar testified under oath four times between 2015 and 2017 as part of the government’s investigations into Mahoney’s accusations. Each time, Ledogar says, he corroborated Mahoney’s allegations of harassment and discrimination.

According to Ledogar, Mahoney settled her EEO complaint in 2019. She was transferred out of the task force, an opportunity she considered a dream job, for safety reasons; the task force members accused of harassing her, however, were permitted to return.

One of the accused bullies, a local police officer, lost his spot on the task force in September 2015, after he allegedly confronted Ledogar at a New York Mets game about his support of Mahoney. Ledogar says the cop was so angry he worried the officer would clock him.

Immediately after the cop’s ouster, Ledogar was named in an IOD investigation, prompted by the task force supervisor’s claims that someone broke into his office. According to one of Ledogar’s filings, that investigation was closed as unsubstantiated in 2016.

That wouldn’t be the end of Ledogar’s troubles.

In June 2016, two months after he was interviewed a second time in Mahoney’s harassment case, Ledogar was again targeted by internal affairs—this time over accusations he made racist comments in the workplace.

Ledogar contends those accusations were fabricated by the same task force members who allegedly harassed Mahoney. Indeed, the cop accused of pushing Mahoney was the first to raise the racism claims while agency investigators questioned him about the shoving incident.

During an internal affairs interview, the officer told an inspector that higher-ups within the task force “were sorry to see me go” and that “the reason I had to leave was because of an argument that I had with one of your bosses, Robert Ledogar, at a ball game…” He described Ledogar as a former friend who even attended his wedding.

“That’s why I’m not on this task force that I loved,” the erstwhile fugitive hunter added, according to a transcript of the interview. “That was a big part of my life.”

Because the inspector was looking into “office culture,” the cop said, he wanted to disclose that Ledogar routinely used the n-word around employees. “He did it frequently,” the deputy claimed. “I’m talking about hundreds of times.”

Asked whether he ever reported Ledogar’s alleged language, the deputized officer answered no. “The reason I didn’t do it was because of the blue line,” he added.

He then claimed Ledogar said he was a silent partner of a mixed martial arts gym on Long Island that was owned by a convicted felon familiar to the task force. (Ledogar’s lawyers have called this accusation “bizarre and patently false.”)

In March 2017, the U.S. Marshals Service proposed terminating Ledogar based on this officer’s claims. One month later, records show, Chief Inspector Jones dismissed the racism accusations as unsubstantiated. Ledogar says more than 100 law enforcement colleagues sent Jones letters defending him against these claims.

At the same time, Ledogar learned he was the subject of two more internal affairs investigations: one based on his connection to a convicted felon and confidential informant who falsely claimed he was staying at the home of Ledogar and his wife while on temporary release; the other related to additional claims from the local cop that Ledogar used racial slurs, stole property, and used drugs.

Those investigations would continue into 2020, when the Marshals Service removed him from office because of the informant probe. The inquiry based on the cop’s racism claims was closed without further action, Ledogar’s lawyers say.

In one appeal filing, Ledogar’s attorneys claim that the U.S. Marshals Service kept the racism probe “open for nearly three years despite the fact that it knew at approximately the time the matter was first opened, and especially upon Chief Inspector Jones’s April 26, 2017, dismissal of all charges… that the underlying accusations were false or otherwise not credible.”

In the informant case, the felon claimed to have intel on an alleged sexting scandal—later called a hoax by police—involving former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano. Ledogar consulted with the local U.S. Attorney’s Office, which opened an investigation. While the informant provided assistance, Ledogar held money for him and gave him a small loan to pay rent. Ledogar later told OPR's internal affairs that he agreed to help the informant so he could continue helping law enforcement and guarantee he “stayed clean, out of trouble, and functional.”

The internal affairs accusations, Ledogar says, stemmed from state corrections officials’ confusion over the felon’s release. In order to keep the U.S. Attorney’s office probe secret, the man allegedly made false claims about staying with Ledogar at his home.

The New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision filed a complaint about the circumstances surrounding the prisoner’s release, leading to an investigation with the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General. After a federal prosecutor corroborated the criminal probe, OIG declined to take action.

But the U.S. Marshals Service used the claims to open a probe of its own. According to Ledogar’s filings, the same local cop who accused him of racism while battling accusations by Mahoney had previously “made the patently absurd claim” that Ledogar owned a Long Island gym with the informant.

During the course of the U.S. Marshals’ internal affairs investigation, Ledogar was also questioned about images of a fugitive DJ and model’s Playboy spread found on his government phone.

Ledogar told them he led a team that arrested the model on an extradition warrant at New York City’s JFK Airport in November 2015. Shortly afterward, U.S. Marshals personnel took photos of the model’s belongings to be inventoried including her suitcases, jewelry and the magazine, which positively identified the model as their suspect.

“He did not take the photographs of the magazine for his personal gratification and did not post them or send the photographs to anyone outside the course of his duties,” Ledogar’s filing alleges.

Meanwhile, U.S. Marshals officials questioned Ledogar about his close relationship with a man who happened to be a convicted felon, for whom he wrote a character reference on agency letterhead. Ledogar claims he didn’t know his buddy had a criminal record until four years into their friendship, and that he’d previously self-reported their ties to OPR. (In his letter, Mullee said he and Ledogar met the pal around the same time through a law enforcement nonprofit; the friend was a businessman and supporter of the charity.)

Still, Ledogar’s colleagues continue to stick by him despite the charges.

Last November, the National Police Defense Foundation, a nonprofit that provides medical and legal support to members of law enforcement, announced it was supporting Ledogar over the Marshals Service and launching a legal defense fund to “to help support his legal efforts in order to challenge his unjust termination.”

Because U.S. Marshals don’t have a union, Ledogar says, he and his wife have paid for legal fees with their savings and by borrowing money from relatives and friends during the years-long battle against his removal from service.

His father, Charles Ledogar, called the Marshals Service’s actions “a witch hunt against my son, his family and friends.” The elder Ledogar, a Vietnam vet and retired New York sanitation worker, told The Daily Beast: “To know that our government will go to any means to hurt a good person for helping people, is disgusting.”

Craig Caine, a retired U.S. Marshal and fugitive task force inspector in Nassau County who worked with Ledogar for years, told The Daily Beast that Ledogar was respected, well-liked, “treated everybody with equality” and often tried to be a “troubleshooter” for the district.

“He’s going through hell and back,” Caine said. “What these people did to that poor man, I don’t even have an adjective to describe it. They threw their own under the bus in support of outsiders that made some frivolous bogus lies.” your social media marketing partner