Federal prosecutors are making a rare push to commandeer the public pension of imprisoned former Clark County judge Steven Jones to help pay $2.9 million in restitution owed to the victims of his investment scheme.
The Public Employees Retirement System of Nevada — which says Jones is eligible for $10,419 per month when he turns 60 in November 2017 — is fighting the effort. The agency filed a formal objection in court to the garnishment effort last month.
It contends federal authorities are prohibited from taking the former Family Court judge’s pension under state law and must get his permission to immediately start the payout process.
But this week Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Woolf argued in court papers that federal law, which trumps state law on this subject, allows the government to access a defendant’s retirement benefits to compensate victims without his permission.
“The United States may step into Jones’ shoes and exercise whatever rights he has to his PERS account, including election of early distribution,” Woolf wrote. “The United States is not prevented from enforcing its lien rights to collect restitution under federal law by any state, and it is entitled to garnish Jones’ PERS account to satisfy his outstanding restitution obligations.”
Nevada U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden could not say Friday whether federal prosecutors in Nevada have previously sought to take possession of a public pension.
“Our office does not maintain records regarding the types of assets we have historically pursued for collection,” Bogden said. “With that said, and as stated in our court filings, the United States has broad authority to collect restitution owed by criminal defendants, including collection against a state pension.”
Prosecutors want a judicial order that allows them to begin garnishing some of Jones’ retirement funds now.
Jones, 58, is serving a 26-month prison term at a federal facility near Bakersfield, Calif. as a result of his conviction for participating in the decade-long investment scheme. His projected release date is April 12, 2017.
He pleaded guilty in September 2014 to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and then resigned after 20 years on the bench.
Jones later admitted in his plea agreement with prosecutors that he used his judicial office to further the fraud. At least 22 victims were swindled out of the $2.9 million.
Following his indictment, Jones was suspended with pay and collected his $200,000 annual salary for all but three months until his resignation.
Contact Jeff German at email@example.com or 702-380-8135. Find him on Twitter: @JGermanRJ.