STUMP » Articles » Public Pension Watch: Won't Anybody Think of the Poor Corrupt Officials? » 6 November 2015, 06:01

Where Stu & MP spout off about everything.

Public Pension Watch: Won't Anybody Think of the Poor Corrupt Officials?  

by

6 November 2015, 06:01

I see that corrupt Illinois (BIRM) politician Dennis Hastert gets to keep his pension in his plea deal::

Former Speaker J. Dennis Hastert may have lost his Capitol portrait after pleading guilty to a felony, but he still gets to keep his pension — estimated at more than $70,000 per year.

The Illinois Republican pleaded guilty on Oct. 28 to evading banking reporting rules as part of a hush-money case to cover up prior misconduct, which reports linked to sexual abuse. Less than one week later, his portrait vanished from the Speaker’s Lobby and is now nowhere to be found. But despite losing that place of prominence in the Capitol, the former speaker can still collect his congressional pension.

According to a 2013 Congressional Research Service report, a lawmaker who is convicted of one or more of a litany of felonies can be forced to forfeit his or her pension. But that forfeiture only applies to crimes committed while in office.

Since Hastert’s participation in the hush-money scheme allegedly occurred between 2010 and 2014, after he left office in 2007, those provisions do not apply to his conviction.

“He’s not going to lose his pension because the crimes that he has plead guilty to, was convicted of, in that sense were not related to his official duties,” Craig Holman, a lobbyist with Public Citizen, said in a Wednesday phone interview. “The main reason is the crime occurred after he left office.”

I suppose that’s fair. I think the Damnatio Memoriae is silly in this case — I think it’s a good idea to keep the portrait up, with a description of his plea deal. They shouldn’t be allowed to forget the shadowy Speakers — hey, did they also remove the portrait of Jim Wright?

Let’s check the online collection.

Oh look, his portrait is still online.

He’ll always be online. The factoid the collection gave up is that his is the only portrait set in the chambers of the house, as opposed to his office.

Oddly, Hastert’s is the last portrait. Did Pelosi not get one made? Boehner? This article says those portraits aren’t in the gallery, and that it was Speaker Ryan who made the decision, as Boehner did not remove the portrait. Silly move, Ryan.

THEY CAN’T TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ME

Thing is, plenty of convicted officials get to keep their pensions, even when it was specifically an abuse of office that got them nabbed.

Back in February, I noted a few items regarding a corrupt Savannah police chief — whose pension was yanked, and notorious NY pol Shel Silver, whose “defense” in his current corruption trial is everybody in NY politics is corrupt. I may have paraphrased, but I did not much abuse the truth.

The federal prosecutor wants to grab Silver’s pension for restitution purposes, but there will be issues.

Often the constitutional (or other) protections on pensions, especially for government workers, are such that it’s difficult if not impossible to take away the pensions who abused their official power.

After all, they’re the ones who make the rules.

That said, some sane politicians have realized that it doesn’t look good to allow such shenanigans and have started changing laws. Or at least talking about changing laws.

NEW YORK

Let’s start with New York, where there are hints of juicier targets to come (=cough= Cuomo =cough=), some high profile pols getting nabbed put a fire under legislators asses.

Or at least Cuomo’s ass, which needs a lot of covering:

The proposed change, part of the governor’s five-point ethics ultimatum, would retroactively extend the effects of a 2011 law that allowed for the denial of pensions from public officials who entered the system going forward. Because of the need for a constitutional change to affect those already in the system, an entire rogues’ gallery of corrupt pols — from former state senators Pedro Espada Jr., Vincent Leibell and Carl Kruger to Assembly members William Boyland Jr. and Eric Stevenson — who faced trial after the law was passed continue to receive sizable public pensions despite being convicted of stealing from the same trough or using their positions to enrich themselves in other ways.

“Public officials who are convicted of public corruption should not have taxpayers pay for their retirement,” Cuomo said two weeks ago in a speech at New York University Law School, where he laid out the reform items he wants to see included in the state budget package. That plan has to be hammered out with legislative leaders before the April 1 start of the new fiscal year.

The governor’s speech came 10 days after the arrest and subsequent fall of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver put ethics back in the center of the political debate.

Cuomo made that ethics ultimatum in February. The assembly got around to considering it in May:

Assembly Democrats have introduced a new constitutional amendment that would allow a judge to strip retirement benefits from public officials who are convicted of a crime.

But the new proposal differs from one passed in March by the state Senate, leaving the two houses with less than a month to iron our their differences if they want to start the amendment process this year.

The Assembly’s proposal — introduced late Friday and sponsored by Assemblyman David Buchwald, D-White Plains — would install specific rules and definitions into the state constitution regarding which public officials could see their pensions stripped if convicted of a corruption-related felony.

The new amendment language comes after several labor unions expressed concern about the previous version, which allowed the pension-stripping process and definition of public official to be set by law — which is easier to change.

Yeah, that pesky law.

Even without a change in law, a judge got a corrupt NY pol to cough up pension dough:

A former New York City councilman, Larry B. Seabrook, must forfeit his public pension benefits to pay a $418,000 judgment he owes the government as a result of his 2012 conviction on federal corruption charges, a judge ruled on Tuesday.

The ruling by Judge P. Kevin Castel of Federal District Court in Manhattan is an advance for the government’s effort to strip pension benefits from corrupt city and state politicians.

Mr. Seabrook, a Democrat and a onetime pillar of Bronx politics whose career included stints as an assemblyman, state senator and councilman, is serving a five-year prison sentence as a result of his conviction on charges he schemed to funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars in city money to friends, relatives and a girlfriend, using a network of nonprofits that he controlled.

Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan, who has pursued a series of high-profile corruption cases, said in 2013 that his office would use the civil forfeiture laws to “claw back” the pension benefits of politicians in such cases.

In 2014, for example, a former councilman, Miguel Martinez, a Democrat from Upper Manhattan who had been convicted in a federal corruption case, agreed to forfeit his city pension until he paid back $106,000 that he had stolen.

In the case of Mr. Seabrook, who was convicted of conspiracy, mail and wire fraud, a judge had ordered that he also forfeit the proceeds of his offenses, but Mr. Bharara’s office said it had been unable to locate that money.

A reminder: Mr. Bharara is the one trying to grab at Silver’s pension as well.

Back to the legislative inaction:

The final days of a legislative session rocked by scandal features a dispute over a measure that would strip the taxpayer-funded pensions from officials convicted of abusing their offices.

Legislation that would amend the state constitution to require pension forfeiture for corrupt officials was agreed upon by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders at the end of the budget negotiation in March. But while the Republican-controlled Senate passed the measure along with a stack of budget bills as the deadline loomed, the Assembly delayed its vote amid concerns that the change was too broad, and risked scooping up lower-level public workers who cross the legal line.

….
Approval of a pension forfeiture amendment applying to current lawmakers was one of five ethical reforms Cuomo demanded to see included in the final budget deal in the wake of the January arrest of former Speaker Sheldon Silver, who is facing his own federal charges.

Spokesmen for Heastie and Cuomo declined comment.

The legislation doesn’t have to be passed this session: A constitutional amendment needs to be approved by two subsequently elected legislatures before it can be put before a statewide vote for final approval. That means the second passage couldn’t occur until the seating of a new Legislature in 2017. A statewide vote could be done in November of the same year.

So…. I’m gonna guess nothing is going to change in the next two years.

Even if Bharara manages to bag Cuomo.

From August: Remember Joyce Mitchell, who let out those prisoners in NY?

ALBANY – It seems unlikely that 51-year old Joyce Mitchell will ever work for New York State again, and that means she’ll have to sit around for a while before she can collect her state pension.

That’s right, she still gets her pension.

At least one local state lawmakers wants to make sure that doesn’t happen.

In many parts of upstate New York, Joyce Mitchell is seen as the Demon of Dannemora, or the Seamstress of seemingly unforgivable behavior.

Mitchell, the former prison employee who helped two convicted killers break out of prison, which led to a three week manhunt, which endangered tens of thousands, if not millions of New Yorkers, still stands to collect a $192,000 pension.
…..
But because the courts have ruled that pension money can’t be touched, it seems the only way things can change is by constitutional amendment.

“The first step is to pass the constitutional amendment,” Stec says, “We need to pass it through two different legislatures and it has to go to the voters and we’ve denied that process from getting started yet.”

Because of a law that passed two years ago, elected officials and top government appointees are already subject to pension forfeiture. Joyce Mitchell, however, wouldn’t be covered since she is a state employee.”

“I don’t think anyone could have foreseen two years ago that somebody was going to help two brutal murderers escape,” Stec says.

Lawmakers are likely to revisit ethics reform in the next legislative session, during which,
Woerner stresses, new laws need to be tempered with reasonableness.

“We’re really talking about someone who commits a substantial felony in the course of their job,” Woerner states, “or there is significant consequences to the taxpayers as a result of that.”

Something else that Stec says he’s like to explore is the possibility that prosecutors could use state employee’s pension as a plea bargain negotiating tool.

In other words, he’d like to see prosecutors be able to lesson jail sentences if defendants were willing to forfeit their pensions.

My prediction: the Assembly will continue to stonewall. After all, they’re there to protect corrupt officials, not the voters.

[also, note the horrible editing on this article. “lesson jail sentences”?! Come on.]

More support for my prediction:

She’s headed to prison after pleading guilty to providing the tools that allowed two convicted killers to bust free, setting off a three-week manhunt. But when she gets out, Joyce Mitchell will still be able to collect her state pension.

There’s no legal way to deny Mitchell her taxpayer-funded retirement.

But future Joyce Mitchells will be just as lucky — and for that, you can thank Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and his fellow Democrats.

Following angry complaints from their lords and masters, the government-worker unions, Assembly Dems reneged on an agreement to pass a proposed constitutional amendment retroactively stripping corrupt public officials of their pensions.

The unions figured out that the amendment wouldn’t cover just elected and top appointed officials. It could hit any state worker “convicted of a felony related to public office.”

As well it should.

But the unions weren’t about to expose their rank-and-file members to possible pension forfeiture. So they pressed Heastie to instead pass a watered-down version.

And, again, nothing will get passed.

AROUND THE WORLD

After all, it’s New York and everywhere else, right?

Italy’s Berlusconi thinks that it’s an insult to reduce his pension:

Italy’s former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi said the axing of his €8,000 a month parliamentary pension was the latest “insult” against him. So much so, because he gave the money to charity.

Berlusconi was left fuming after Italy’s senate last week revoked his parliamentary pension after the tax-fraud convict was sentenced by a Naples court for bribing a senator in a fresh legal blow.

Italy’s three-time premier reportedly received €8,000 a month, which he said he gave to charity.

“After all that I have done in my years in government, to cut the annuity was an outrage,” he was quoted on Thursday by Ansa as telling officials in his Forza Italia party.

Ex-governor of Virginia can get his pension yanked:

Former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell will likely lose about $3,700 a month in pension payments as a result of his conviction last year on corruption charges, according to the formula the state uses to calculate benefits.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) last week started the process of stripping his predecessor of his pension after Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D) released a legal opinion saying McDonnell was no longer entitled to the payments. Herring ruled that under a law McDonnell signed in 2011, state employees convicted of felonies related to on-the-job conduct must relinquish their benefits.

It is not clear exactly how much of a financial loss that will be for McDonnell, 61, who was convicted on 11 corruption-related counts stemming from his dealings with a Richmond businessman.

…..
Before becoming governor, McDonnell served for 3 1/2 years as attorney general, 14 years in the Virginia House of Delegates and two years as an assistant prosecutor. That gives him about 23 1/2 years of public service in the VRS system.

Given his age, his years of public service and the $175,000 salary that he was paid as governor, McDonnell’s benefits most likely come to about $3,700 a month, or $44,400 a year.

Illinois pension of corrupt deputy to be yanked:

KANKAKEE – Prosecutors said they are reviewing whether Kankakee County should revoke the pension of a former sheriff’s deputy convicted of fraud.

Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jamie Boyd told The Daily Journal his office is reviewing Timothy Swanson’s case. Swanson was sentenced in May to more than two years in federal prison for mail fraud, money laundering and tax evasion.

Swanson previously was police chief in Countryside, whose police pension board has revoked Swanson’s $101,000 annual pension. He will receive personal money contributed to his pension but no public money.

Prosecutors said Swanson created a tax-exempt organization to operate two helicopters for law enforcement. Officials said he asked for contributions, which he then spent on personal purchases.

A couple of New Jersey stories. An ex firefighter fraudulently collecting a disability pension:

A former Camden firefighter was charged Tuesday with stealing more than $82,000 by fraudulently collecting a disability pension from the New Jersey Police and Firemen’s Retirement System (PFRS), according to the state attorney general’s office.

What’s more, city resident Shane B. Streater, 40, was allegedly collecting the pension payments while working as a martial arts instructor and participating in competitive mixed martial arts, the state attorney general’s office says.

Streater was charged by complaint with second-degree theft by deception. He was served with a summons; he was not arrested, Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman noted in a press release issued Wednesday.

The charge is the result of an investigation by the state Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau. The matter was referred to the state Attorney General’s Office by the state PFRS board.

Ah, fraudulent disability in public pensions… that’s for another time.

Still, I like the charge of theft. Because it is stealing from the pension fund.

A trooper who falsified audits is getting a reduction:

TRENTON — A veteran State Police trooper who admitted this year to falsifying audit reports of law enforcement agencies that have access to the state’s sensitive criminal justice database has had his pension reduced by nearly a third as a result of his crime.

Acting Sgt. 1st Class Glenn Mannino, 52, of Little Silver, a nearly 27-year member of the force, pleaded guilty in February to fourth-degree falsifying or tampering with records and agreed to give up his job and be permanently barred from public employment in the state.

Mannino was approved by the State Police Retirement System board in November for retirement retroactive to June 1, on the condition his pension be reduced.

Nice.

I GOT MINE

But often I do see people getting to see their pensions.

Pennsylvania school official gets to keep pension though he embezzled school funds:

Former Mid Valley School District Superintendent James Tallarico is an admitted felon, but will keep his pension.

Mr. Tallarico, 56, appeared in Lackawanna County Court on Friday and entered a guilty plea before Judge Michael J. Barrasse to one count of theft by unlawful taking, a third-degree felony.

The attorney general’s office charged the former school district chief in July in a 22-count criminal complaint that accused him of misappropriating $11,692 in district funds for his own use.

“Did you commit that crime?” Judge Barrasse asked before accepting his plea.

“Yes, sir,” Mr. Tallarico replied.

But the charge Mr. Tallarico pleaded guilty to, though a felony, is a favorable deal for him, said two uninvolved veteran criminal defense attorneys contacted Friday.

Out of the 22 counts he faced, theft by unlawful taking was one of two that did not fall under the state’s pension forfeiture act. Had he pleaded guilty any of the other 20 counts, he could have lost his pension.

“That is a pretty big victory,” said attorney Al Flora Jr. of Wilkes-Barre. “No two ways about it.”

I guess crime can pay, if you make sure to do it as a public official.

Tom Finneran had his pension reinstated by a judge, after it had been yanked:

The head of the state retirement board said it is weighing its next step, which could include an appeal, after a judge struck down its decision to revoke former Speaker of the House Tom Finneran’s pension following his 2007 federal conviction.

The 15-page Boston Municipal Court decision, written by Associate Justice Serge Georges, Jr. and dated Friday, rejected the board’s 2012 move to strip Finneran of his pension and ordered that he receive retroactive payments.

The Herald reported at the time of the board’s decision that Finneran, a Mattpan Democrat, was due to receive roughly $33,000 a year. If Georges’ order stands, Finneran could receive more than $200,000 in back payments, according to the board.

“This is an ongoing legal matter and the board will weigh its options,” executive director Nick Favorito said in a statement. “Right now we are working closely with the Attorney General’s office to determine next steps.”

The retirement board will have to decide at a future meeting whether it will appeal the ruling. If so, it will likely then make its case to the Attorney General Maura Healey’s office, which would then weigh whether to push forward.

Finneran’s pension was suspended in 2007 when he pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice charges.

Finneran’s attorney, Nick Poser, said he “fully” expects the Boston Municipal Court ruling to stand up if the state chooses to appeal.

What had Tom Finneran done? Lied in a federal case, looks like which he pled down to obstruction of justice.

That last one is from October, so we’ll have to wait a while to see if they manage to yank Finneran’s pension again.

STRATEGY FOR PUBLIC UNIONS: KICK OUT THE CROOKS

Once upon a time, one of the Central/South American civilizations had a tradition of having harsher punishments for officials who had abused their offices … and I know that China likes executing corrupt officials (though it seems, sometimes, it’s more about hiding worse behavior at higher levels). I’m just saying having a pension yanked away is small beer compared to that.

Especially if the pension fund in question is not doing well, and there may be across-the-board whacking because money runs out and the taxes required to keep it going are unsustainable (much like the pensions themselves.)

The prospective whackees may want to curry favor with the eventual whackers (taxpayers) by jettisoning the corrupt in their midst.

I’m not going to go all Shel Silver and claim that they’re all corrupt so they have to protect each other. But it may go a long way in convincing taxpayers that they’re not all corrupt by making sure those who are don’t profit by it.


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