September 8th, 2020
WHEC TV News 10 | Convicted and Cashing In
Christina Tobin, Vice-President for TUA, was featured in this story from WHEC TV News 10 on convicted New York public employees cashing in with pension payouts. See video of the story below.
Former public employees convicted and cashing in. Despite serving time behind bars, many public sector workers are still drawing a pension that you’re paying for with millions of your tax dollars.
You might have thought that if a public employee like a cop, a teacher or a state senator was convicted of a crime in New York, they would have forfeited their taxpayer funded pension. But until this year, that hasn’t been the case.
And we found plenty of examples of the convicted cashing in.
When former Greece Police Chief Merritt Rahn was found guilty of cover-up crimes involving two of his officers, he lost his job, his reputation and his freedom. He didn’t, however, lose his taxpayer funded pension. For the past two years, while behind bars, Rahn has been collecting a retirement pension of $55,000 per year.
“Well if he does, he doesn’t deserve it, that’s for sure,” said Greece resident Bob Warnick when we told him of Rahn’s pension.
In fact, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. We found many public employees convicted of crimes and still collecting their pensions. And it’s perfectly legal.
After digging online, we ran the names of some former dubious local public employees into a database that tracks pensions. And here’s what I Team 10 discovered:
*Former state assemblyman Jerry Johnson. Convicted of breaking into a staff member’s home in Livingston County, he retired in 2000 and now collects an annual pension of $39,807.
*Bob Morone, in prison for his part in the county Robutrad scandal…$18,790.
*Former City of Rochester inspector William Redden, who admitted to taking bribes in a bid rigging scheme…$21,376.
*Former Monroe County Sheriff’s Deputy James Telban was found guilty of misdemeanor DWI in a crash that killed a motorcyclist. He still gets his pension…$30,000 a year.
*John Stanwix, former Monroe County Water Authority chairman who pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of steering contracts to a consulting company he owned has an staggering pension of $98,658 per year.
*Nelson Miles, Jr., formerly a teacher in Caledonia-Mumford, who downloaded child porn…$21,705.
*Crooked cop Gary Pignato, now locked up for using his badge in Greece to coerce women into sex, gets $45,494 a year.
“You shouldn’t be allowed to collect a pension after committing a felony offense and being convicted for it in relation to your job title and duties,” says state assemblyman Mark Johns.
Johns co-sponsored a bill that punishes elected or appointed public officials who violate the public trust by making them forfeit their state pensions. And last year, elements of that legislation were incorporated into an ethics reform bill, signed by Governor Cuomo, which allows prosecutors to go after public employee pensions in some cases.
Still the new law doesn’t apply to those already collecting.
“What if he received that pension in a private sector job? He certainly would still be drawing that,” says Rochester Police Locust Club President Mike Mazzeo.
Mazzeo and other critics question whether it’s fair to take away a pension that a public employee earned over an entire career.
“Someone that’s serviced for 20 to 25 or 30 years with outstanding service and the whatever the issue is, the mistake made. Does that justify reducing or taking away their pension?” asks Mazzeo.
Over the course of a retirement, those pension dollars add up.
Take the case of former Rochester Police Chief Gordon Urlacher. He had 25 years in with the department before he was convicted in 1992 of embezzlement charges. According to the New York State Comptroller’s Office, since his retirement shortly after his arrest, Urlacher has received close to one million dollars in pension payments.
“This issue only scratches the surface of the problem,” says Christina Tobin of Taxpayers United of America.
She’s been traveling the country warning of pending doom if public pension costs aren’t reigned in.
“The taxpayers, they aren’t aware that pensions are the number one budgetary problem in the United States today and we need to address this issue,” Tobin says.
Targeting felons may not fix the problem, but supporters say it’s a start.
“I think it’s a waste of the taxpayer’s money myself. If the guy’s in jail, that means he doesn’t deserve something. Why give him a good pension?” says Warnick.
I Team 10 also spoke with the local chapter of the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA). The labor union of public employees says it supports the idea of only rewarding members with pensions who don’t violate the people’s trust.
The new ethics law, call The Clean Up Albany Act of 2011 only addresses felonies and would not automatically strip a public worker of his or her pension upon conviction. A prosecutor or the New York State Attorney General’s Office would have to essentially petition the court to withhold all or part of that pension, depending on the severity of the crime the public employee was convicted of.