Officials convicted of corruption collect pensions, adding insult to injury

With all the cheery news of corrupt politicians, a reader asked whether convicted politicians lose their pensions?

Not in Nevada.

When Dario Herrera, Mary Kincaid-Chauncey, Erin Kenny and Lance Malone get out of prison, they will still qualify for their pensions. Can’t tell you how much money that will be because the Nevada Public Employees Retirement System isn’t allowed to reveal personal pension information.

The only time Nevada law bans public employees of any ilk from qualifying for a pension is if they murder someone just to get the pension, not an everyday occurrence.

Nevada law doesn’t prohibit public officials or any other public employees convicted of a crime (including police officers) from getting their pensions when they are eligible. So Malone, a former police officer who used his connections from his days as a county commissioner to bribe other commissioners, will get his pension for his efforts as a police officer and a commissioner. At 70, Kincaid-Chauncey is probably getting her pension now, even while she’s in prison.

Nevada views a public employee’s pension as a property right, something the person earns, because the individual contributes to it.

Illinois takes a different view.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich, the only governor whose bad publicity makes Jim Gibbons look good (especially because none of the investigations into Gibbons resulted in any charges), will lose his state pension if he’s convicted but probably would keep his congressional pension.

Las Vegan Gilbert Mullen, who asked the pension question I had to research, wants corrupt politicians to lose their pensions “in order to make these politicians do right.” The senior maintenance technician for the Clark County Reclamation District is outraged by news of blatant corruption in Alaska, Illinois, and, yes, Nevada. “These people are in areas of trust, they can affect a city and a state economically,” he said, while taxpayers pay the penalty.

“There are a lot of issues in the county,” said Mullen, 55. “And this is telling me that instead of people taking care of our business, they’re only taking care of personal business, and we the people suffer.”

He hopes that President-elect Barack Obama takes the lead. “This is the type of change we need. Let’s make these elected officials act right.”

I’m not sure stripping them of their pensions will make corrupt elected officials “act right,” but it can’t hurt.

Peter Sepp, spokesman for the National Taxpayers Union, agrees with Mullen. Corrupt members of Congress and senators should be stripped of their pensions.

Congress passed a law in 2007 to do exactly that, but it didn’t go into effect until after September 2007 and the list of crimes was so specific that almost none of the recently convicted lawmakers will lose their pensions. Sure, the intent was right, but the law they passed was full of holes.

Sepp, vice president of policy and communications, said the National Taxpayers Union supports enactment of a no-pensions-for-felons law on the state and federal levels, noting some states already have them.

“The federal law still has far too many loopholes and covers far too few crimes,” he said. Sen. Ted Stevens, the Alaska Republican, won’t lose his $122,000 pension; neither will Rep. William Jefferson, the Louisiana Democrat, lose his $45,000 a year pension if he’s convicted. Jefferson’s alleged crimes were committed before the law passed. The law did not cover Stevens’ charges and wasn’t retroactive.

Blagojevich is likely to forfeit his state pension. George Ryan, the previous Illinois governor, lost his. But Sepp said nothing would stop Blagojevich from getting a pension for the six years he was in Congress, about $13,000.

The National Taxpayers Union has a tough suggestion that would meet Mullen’s approval and close loopholes. Any senator or members of congress convicted of a felony would lose their taxpayer-funded pension, even a felony committed after they left office. Any felony.

Right now, there are at least 20 convicted federal lawmakers eligible for federal pensions since the federal law was not retroactive.

Meanwhile, in Nevada, corrupt public employees rest assured. No matter what they do, they’ll always have their PERS to fall back on in their old age, and whatever money they saved from the bribes, presuming they weren’t living large.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0275. She also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/morrison.

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