STUMP » Articles » Easy Lifting: Pulling the Pensions of Criminal Officials in New York » 26 January 2016, 06:39

Where Stu & MP spout off about everything.

Easy Lifting: Pulling the Pensions of Criminal Officials in New York  

by

26 January 2016, 06:39

And I mean officials that are convicted criminals, not officials which oversee criminals.

It’s sad that it has to come to this: my local Democratic legislator had an op-ed in the New York Times to argue that we need to amend our state constitution to be able to remove the pensions of corrupt officials:

Convicted of Corruption, but Still Getting a Pension

IN New York State, both the former Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver and the former Senate majority leader Dean Skelos have recently been tried and convicted on numerous federal charges of corruption. They share another distinction: Since their trials, they have both applied for their state pensions. Sadly, they have every right to do so.

Under current law in New York, a former public official sitting in prison for a felony conviction for misconduct in office can still receive his or her pension checks. In the cases of Mr. Silver and Mr. Skelos, those payouts could easily total millions of dollars each.

Under current law in New York, a former public official sitting in prison for a felony conviction for misconduct in office can still receive his or her pension checks. In the cases of Mr. Silver and Mr. Skelos, those payouts could easily total millions of dollars each.

And they will join a host of other former public officials, including but not limited to elected lawmakers who have been convicted of crimes related to their jobs but who are nonetheless receiving pensions. This is not only a waste of taxpayer money, but it also conveys the message that Albany tolerates — and is even willing to bankroll — those proved beyond any reasonable doubt to be corrupt.

Changing this situation for state and local officials requires an amendment to the New York State Constitution, which at present mandates that pension benefits not be diminished once someone enters the state pension system. (In 2011, a statutory change fixed this problem for new public employees, but it has no effect on a vast majority of New York’s public officials, who served in some state or local capacity before the end of that year.)

While the constitutional provision protects those who serve honorably, those who dishonor their office by criminal conduct deserve no such protection. More than half of all states have passed some form of pension forfeiture for convicted public officials.
……
Some deny that corruption is a serious problem that can be addressed through legislation. Others refuse to support the amendment based on the mistaken premise that pension forfeiture harms the families of the convicted public officials; of course, it is the corrupt officials who harm their families when they violate the law.

Some public sector unions have also resisted this reform on the grounds that any reduction in pension rights will lead to broader pension reductions. I believe that, while perhaps well intentioned, they have things backward — the real threat to public pensions is the erosion of public support for them that occurs every time there is another headline about a corrupt official heading to prison who will continue to collect a full pension.

And you better believe it that we get to hear about the big pensions these people are collecting from prison.

BLAST FROM THE NEAR PAST: WON’T ANYBODY THINK OF THE POOR CORRUPT OFFICIALS?

I’ve written about this issue before: (from February 2015)

I understand the argument of not necessarily taking away an official’s pension just because he was convicted of some criminality — I mean, should someone lose their pension over drug possession, for example?

Now, if it involves an abuse of their office…

“During his trial last fall, prosecutors said Lovett pocketed more than $70,000 from operators of carnival trailers used as a front for illegal gambling in Savannah during holidays such as St. Patrick’s Day and New Year’s Day. Lovett was accused of taking cash in exchange for letting the gambling trailers stay open for a decade. That included Lovett’s four years as police chief, until he retired abruptly in September 2013. The ex-chief was indicted about nine months later.”

Ah. Yeah. I don’t think there’s a problem of yanking this guy’s pension.

Then I went on to note that even if Sheldon Silver were convicted (he was), he would still get his pension. This is really why this cause has picked up in the NY legislature.

I treated the issue again in March 2015:

The state should not be giving money to people who used their state jobs to commit the crimes they were convicted for.

This is not a difficult concept, unions.

If you want to actually to continue to exist, you need to realize that you are not called upon to try to get money for criminals, even if they are members of your union.

Finally, in November I covered multiple corrupt officials and their pensions, and had the same conclusion:

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.

When a Democratic politician is making the same arguments as an arch-conservative like me…. perhaps this is something that will be broadly popular with the elector. Just a thought.

RECENT CRIMINAL OFFICIAL ROUNDUP

Let’s take a look at the stories I came across in passing since my November 2015 post on criminals with state pensions.

Pedophile Jerry Sandusky got his pension back:

HARRISBURG, Pa. — The state must restore the pension of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky that was taken away three years ago on the day he was sentenced to prison on child molestation convictions, a court ordered Friday.

A Commonwealth Court panel ruled unanimously that the State Employees’ Retirement Board wrongly concluded Sandusky was a Penn State employee when he committed the crimes of indecent assault and involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, which were the basis for the pension forfeiture.

“The board conflated the requirements that Mr. Sandusky engage in ‘work relating to’ PSU and that he engage in that work ‘for’ PSU,” wrote Judge Dan Pellegrini. “Mr. Sandusky’s performance of services that benefited PSU does not render him a PSU employee.”

Sandusky, 71, collected a $148,000 lump sum payment upon retirement in 1999 and began receiving monthly payments of $4,900.

The board stopped those payments in October 2012 on the day he was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison for sexually abusing 10 children.

The basis for that decision was a provision in the state Pension Forfeiture Act that applies to “crimes related to public office or public employment.”

The judges said the board’s characterization of Sandusky as a Penn State employee at the time those offenses occurred was erroneous because he did not maintain an employer-employee relationship with the university after 1999.

The judges ordered the board to pay back interest and reinstated the pension retroactively, granting him about three years of makeup payments.

After the state lost that case, they decided not to appeal.

In Missouri, a criminal lawmaker argued he should get his pension:

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) – A former Missouri state lawmaker is battling the state over whether a federal conviction should affect his qualification for a state pension.

Ray Salva, who is 68, served in the Missouri House for about seven years beginning in 2003. The Kansas City Star reports (http://bit.ly/1M95Zdw ) he pleaded guilty in 2013 to a federal charge of illegally receiving about $59,000 in Social Security disability payments while working as a state legislator. Salva has since repaid the $59,000.

Federal prosecutors say Salva intentionally concealed his state earnings to avoid the cap imposed on people who receive disability payments.

Salva says he’s entitled to his state pension because his guilty plea came after he left the legislature.

But Missouri officials say the state constitution prohibits pension payments to public officials convicted of felonies. The state has cut off Salva’s pension and wants a judge to order him to repay about $30,000 he’s already received. In court filing, the state says prohibition of pension payments applies to when a crime is committed while in office, not when a conviction takes place.

Of course I have a Chicago example:

Byrd-Bennett entitled to at least $140K in public pensions; cost CPS $900K

Chicago taxpayers paid almost $900,000 for three and a half years’ work by disgraced former Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett.

And though she’s a felon since pleading guilty in a contract rigging scheme at CPS, she still stands to cost taxpayers in districts that employed her more than $140,000 in annual public pensions.

Byrd-Bennett’s decades-long education career effectively ended in Chicago in April after federal subpoenas looking into her and a $20.5 million no-bid deal she gave a former employer, The SUPES Academy, became public. She resigned June 1, was indicted in October and pleaded guilty to a single count of wire fraud within a week of being charged. She faces prison time and has vowed to cooperate in the ongoing investigation.

Another Illinois story… with a nasty aspect:

Now that Lake County authorities have ruled the death of Fox Lake police Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz a suicide, the village is expected to tackle the question of what pension benefits his surviving family members will receive.

While Gliniewicz’s family has yet to apply for pension benefits, Illinois Public Pension Fund Association president James McNamee said the Lake County Major Crime Task Force’s announcement that authorities concluded the lieutenant committed suicide, fearing years of alleged criminal activity would be discovered, likely ruled out his family’s chance of receiving larger benefits owed survivors of officers killed in the line of duty.

“This was not a line of duty death,” McNamee said.

…..
Under Illinois law, the spouse of a retirement-eligible officer who dies, but not in the line of duty, receives pension benefits that range from 50 to 75 percent of the officer’s salary, depending on the officer’s years of service. The surviving spouse of an officer killed in the line of duty is entitled to receive the officer’s full salary at the time of death.

……
But McNamee said the task force’s conclusions, including allegations that Gliniewicz had been engaged in “extensive criminal acts,” including years of theft from the Explorers youth police program he ran, also call into question whether the family is entitled to the more limited pension benefits.

According to McNamee, the board will decide whether Gliniewicz’s wife qualifies for a survivor’s pension benefit. If not, they would refund his contributions, McNamee said.

Illinois pension law states that no pension benefits will be paid to police officers convicted of a felony related to their police work and allows the Attorney General to stop pensions being paid to anyone convicted of a felony related to their service as an employee, though allegations of Gliniewicz’s wrongdoing surfaced only after his death.

……
Hours after Gliniewicz’s death was ruled a suicide, Fox Lake police pension board president Fred Loffredo said the board’s attorney was researching how the pension laws apply.

“I’ve never dealt with anything like this before,” said Loffredo, who said the task force’s announcement of Gliniewicz’s suicide and alleged crimes came “like a kick in the stomach.”

This does not mean that criminal officials shouldn’t get their pensions yanked, but it does highlight a secondary problem: our criminal justice system does not try dead people. So a criminal may think a way out for their family is to kill themselves.

This is an incentive that shouldn’t exist, either, but you want to make sure that due process is involved in yanking a pension.

One from Connecticut:

HARTFORD, Conn. – A Connecticut state police trooper who stole cash and jewelry from a dying motorcycle accident victim and then resigned has lost his state pension.

State Attorney General George Jepsen announced Thursday a Hartford Superior Court judge recently approved the revocation of Aaron Huntsman’s pension. Huntsman had been eligible to begin receiving $1,530 a month in 2024.

A 2008 law allows the state to revoke the pensions of state or municipal officials convicted of crimes related to their jobs.

Huntsman stole $3,700 and a gold crucifix from John Scalesse as he lay dying after crashing his motorcycle on the Merritt Parkway in Fairfield in 2012. He was sentenced to a year in prison.

I guess the bright side (for him) is that the CT pensions are in such an awful state, maybe he wouldn’t have been getting that $18K per year in 2024. (Well, they can probably keep it going for a while, though.)

Still, shows how stupid most criminals are. Losing $18K/year (not to mention the salary from the job) over stealing cash and a necklace is not a positive net value transaction.

This Pennsylvania case seems to be ongoing:

Reading city council wrestles with pension for former cop

READING, PA

At a special meeting Thursday, City Council voted 7-0 to order the city’s Police Pension Board to approve a retroactive pension for a suspended cop charged with theft.

But city council members said that they had no authority to issue the order and they hope the pension board ignores it.

Nonetheless, the move keeps the city from violating state labor laws and needlessly running up more legal bills.

And it’s still up to the city’s independent pension board to decide if former officer Jodi B. Royer – charged with taking $16,854 from city evidence files to feed his gambling habit – gets a pension.
The pension board had rejected Royer’s pension request in June 2014.

“This is a vote we’re somewhat forced to take,” Council President Jeffrey S. Waltman Sr. said just before the vote.

He said council doesn’t believe it has any authority to direct the pension board.

There was no other discussion during the brief public session that followed a lengthy executive session.

Asked later whether the pension board might actually obey the order, Waltman said: “I hope not.”

I guess I understand, but that’s pathetic.

My last one is from Massachusetts:

BOSTON (STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE) – The House on Monday advanced legislation aimed at ensuring that Massachusetts teachers convicted on child pornography charges do not receive their pensions.

The legislation (H 20) was recommended by the seven-member Massachusetts Teachers’ Retirement Board, which oversees services and information in a system that includes more than 90,000 active educators and 62,000 retirees and survivors. The bill was referred to the Legislature’s Public Service Committee in January. That panel held a hearing on the legislation in November and endorsed the bill on Nov. 30.

The legislation specifies that crimes requiring pension forfeiture include a conviction for knowing purchase or possession of visual material of a child depicted in sexual conduct, a conviction of a sex offense involving a child, or a conviction of any other sex offense or sexually violent offense in which the victim was any person under the age of 18.

All of these stories occurred in less than three months.

Something to keep in mind.

I do hope they are able to pass this constitutional amendment in New York, where I live. Yes, Skelos and Silver will still collect their pensions, but perhaps we won’t have future such people.


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