Convicted Connecticut Workers Still Get Pensions Despite Forfeiture Law

State law, which went into effect Oct. 1, 2008, allows the attorney general to revoke or reduce the pension of public officials, state or municipal employees convicted of a crime related to their office, but it doesn't apply to officials convicted before that date.
by | May 21, 2012
 

By Michelle Tuccitto Sullo, New Haven Register, Conn.

Former Gov. John G. Rowland's eligibility to start getting his $50,000 annual pension at the end of May has sparked criticism and frustration, but he is just one of many convicted former public employees to get healthy pensions despite their crimes.

Those crimes range from conspiracy to threaten, accepting bribes and sexual assault to attempted murder.

State law which went into effect Oct. 1, 2008, allows the attorney general to apply to the Superior Court to revoke or reduce the pension of public officials, state or municipal employees convicted of a crime related to their office. It was not a retroactive law, so it doesn't apply to officials convicted before that date.

Lawmakers say there hasn't been any movement since to revisit the issue to make the law retroactive.

That means people like Richard Straub, now 76, a retired juvenile probation officer who was convicted of sexually assaulting underage boys he oversaw, collects a pension -- now $55,030 annually -- and will continue to do so. He retired in 1996.

Straub was convicted of sexual assault in 1999 and is still incarcerated. He later was convicted in connection with an unsuccessful plot to murder the prosecutor who helped put him behind bars.

According to the Office of the State Comptroller, Straub's current benefit includes periodic cost of living adjustments.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn, former state attorney general, said this past week of Straub: "Connecticut taxpayers should be outraged and appalled that a convicted sexual predator continues to get a $55,000 pension. Taxpayers should not have to pay anyone who exploits public office. Obviously, Straub abused a position of public trust, compelling people under his supervision to commit sexual favors."

Blumenthal said he had argued when the 2008 law was under consideration that it should be retroactive, so it would apply to people like Straub. Ultimately, lawmakers decided to make it apply only to convictions after 2008 due to concerns about a retroactive law not being constitutional, Blumenthal said.

"The reason the (retroactive) approach was rejected was because of questions about whether a provision that is a punishment could apply (to prior cases)," Blumenthal said. "There was a feeling that there might be constitutional challenges. I argued that it was a civil matter about whether pensions should be stopped, not a sentencing procedure in a criminal case, so it shouldn't contradict constitutional (rules regarding) ex-post facto punishments, in which new criminal laws can't be made to apply to past actions."

While still the state's attorney general, Blumenthal took action to recoup some money from Straub by charging him for the cost of incarceration.

Blumenthal did not know exactly how much the state has been able to recoup from Straub, and state officials reached for this story were unable to immediately provide the amount. The state Department of Correction estimates the annual cost to incarcerate an inmate at $34,051. Straub is slated to be released in March 2014.

"It is an inadequate substitute for depriving him of the pension," Blumenthal said. "What we need is pension revocation. Fortunately, the law now prevents future corrupt public officials from receiving pensions."

Rowland will get his pension despite being sentenced in 2005 to serve a year in prison after pleading guilty to a federal corruption charge and admitting he accepted gifts like trips and work at his Bantam Lake cottage.

Straub and the former governor aren't alone.

Former state Rep. Jefferson Davis, whose retirement went into effect in 2006, collects an annual pension of $5,706, according to the state Comptroller's Office. Davis is on the state's sex offender registry for a 2004 conviction for risk of injury to a minor, for inappropriate sexual activity involving a boy.

The pension of former state Sen. Ernest Newton is $7,983. Newton's retirement became effective in March 2011. He served prison time after pleading guilty in 2005 to accepting a bribe.

Former state Sen. Louis DeLuca's annual pension is $20,106. DeLuca pleaded guilty in 2007 to a conspiracy to threaten charge, for asking Danbury trash-hauler James Galante to threaten his granddaughter's husband, as DeLuca believed she was a domestic abuse victim.

Rowland's former chief of staff, Peter Ellef Sr., retired in April 2002 and his current annual pension is $25,193.

Rowland's former deputy chief of staff, Lawrence Alibozek, who retired in 2003, gets $12,744 annually, according to figures released by the comptroller's office.

Ellef and Alibozek admitted steering state contracts in exchange for bribes.

Former Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim applied for early retirement in April 2003 and since has been drawing on that city pension, according to Bridgeport spokeswoman Elaine Ficarra. Ganim currently receives about $1,138 per month, she said, or $13,652 annually. Ganim was convicted in 2003 on multiple charges, for using his office for personal gain.

Former Waterbury Mayor Philip Giordano is not collecting a pension only because he never participated in that city's pension plan, according to city Budget Director Ofelia Matos. Giordano, who was sentenced in 2003, is in federal prison for the sexual abuse of two young girls.

Former State Treasurer Paul Silvester didn't work for the state long enough to qualify for pension benefits, according to Tara Downes, spokeswoman for the comptroller's office. Silvester served time in federal prison after admitting to investing pension money in exchange for bribes.

It appears that those convicted before 2008 will continue to get their pensions indefinitely, as there hasn't been any movement to make the law retroactive.

Attorney Andrew McDonald, general counsel for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, said he is unaware of any initiative in the legislature to revisit the issue.

According to McDonald, when the 2008 law was being considered, there was discussion about making it retroactive, but "there were legal impediments."

"You'd be changing the circumstances under which a plea agreement was achieved," McDonald said, adding that if a defendant knew a pension was at stake, he or she might not have made the plea agreement. "When someone decides to plead guilty, they do so understanding what their legal exposure is. This would have been an enhanced consequence to that plea, without them having knowledge of that exposure at the time of the plea."

State Sen. Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said the issue hasn't been addressed since 2008. While the legislature considered making the law retroactive at the time, the problem with it, Looney said, was due process and vesting rights.

"There was a feeling that people had to be on notice that they could lose their pensions," Looney said. "Obviously, at the time, we explored the possibility of trying to cancel these pensions, but it seemed to be untenable and could have subjected the state to litigation."

Susan Kinsman, communications director for current state Attorney General George Jepsen, said the office has taken action against three people since the 2008 law passed.

The attorney general's office has used the law to target the pension of former Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez, who was sentenced in 2010 for larceny, extortion and receiving bribes. The office's civil action in the Perez pension case is pending, according to Kinsman.

In January, the office filed a civil action seeking the revocation or reduction of the pension of James Santorella, a longtime Stamford city employee convicted in 2011 of first-degree larceny. The civil case is pending.

According to Kinsman, the pension of Lori Tompkins, who was employed by the Salisbury school system as a clerk, was revoked following her 2009 conviction on a charge of first-degree larceny.

(c)2012 the New Haven Register (New Haven, Conn.)

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