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Ex-fire captain convicted in online sex crime can collect pension in prison

A former Clark County fire captain who pleaded guilty to using the Internet to arrange a sexual encounter with a minor is eligible to collect a yearly six-figure pension while in prison.

Martin Vohwinkel, 56, resigned in February after he was arrested for setting up what he thought was a date with a 14-year-old girl. He faces a minimum sentence of 10 years.

Because he served 29 years with the Fire Department, Vohwinkel began receiving a pension through the Public Employees Retirement System as soon as he quit his job and would continue collecting it in prison.

County Commissioner Steve Sisolak said the PERS formula shows that Vohwinkel will get $140,000 to $170,000 yearly, which will total about $1.5 million during a 10-year sentence.

He said he was outraged that an admitted online predator will benefit from the system.

“This on so many levels is offensive,” Sisolak said. “When they’re convicted they should lose their pensions. This is a sex crime against a minor.”

Vohwinkel couldn’t be reached for comment because his listed phone number was disconnected.

A police detective posed as teenage girl and answered a “casual encounter” ad on Craigslist.com looking for a “very young girl.” Vohwinkel sent an e-mail saying “the younger the better” along with a nude picture of himself, an assistant federal prosecutor said at a March hearing.

Police arrested Vohwinkel in a parking lot where he expected to meet a 14-year-old girl.

Vohwinkel was paid $230,000 last year, making him the 18th highest-paid county employee.

His beefy wage was partly because of his receiving 1,645 hours of overtime or other extra pay, all while he took 33 days of sick leave and 20 days of vacation, Sisolak said. Considering that firefighters work 10 or 11 shifts a month, Vohwinkel got three months off for sick time alone, he said.

Sisolak said he will press the state Legislature to pass a law barring felons from receiving publicly funded pensions while in prison.

But Dana Bilyeu, PERS executive officer, said the IRS requires the state to have a code preventing public employees’ pensions from being forfeited.

If the state took away one person’s pension, the entire PERS program would lose its tax-exempt status, Bilyeu said. All members would have to pay taxes on their benefits, causing premiums to rise.

Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, a strong child advocate, said she would want to research all the ramifications of taking away pensions that inmates earned before they were incarcerated.

Vohwinkel might have family members who depend on his pension, and they shouldn’t be punished for his crimes, Leslie said. Also, federal law might limit the state’s authority in these matters, she said.

“It’s always more complicated than on the surface,” Leslie said.

Both Leslie and Sisolak said someone as well-off financially as Vohwinkel should reimburse the state for the costs of jailing him.

An inmate on average costs the public about $22,000 a year.

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