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In the clink — yet collecting thousands

New York taxpayers thought it was bad enough to be purloined once by a handful of corrupt former public school administrators. Now that they’ve found out they’re being thieved twice, they want lawmakers to do something about it — and the Nevada Legislature should pay attention.

The scandal surrounding the Roslyn school district, one of New York’s richest and highest-performing systems, made national news two years ago. Superintendent Frank Tassone stole $2.2 million from his schools to support his gambling and fine dining habits — and he was the piker. Pamela Gluckin, a district business official, embezzled $4.3 million in public money. Tassone is serving a four- to 12-year prison sentence, while Gluckin is doing a three- to nine-year term. Three other administrators helped the pair steal an additional $4 million over about 10 years, using the money to pay their mortgages, take vacations and buy jewelry and artwork.

During his sentencing, Tassone wept like one of the many kindergartners he oversaw, then cried all the way to the bank. Despite their felony convictions, Tassone and Gluckin are still collecting fat paychecks from the taxpayers they betrayed. Upon being convicted and losing their jobs, Tassone and Gluckin officially retired from the Roslyn school district and began collecting their defined-benefit pensions and health care subsidies, Tassone receives $173,495 per year — in monthly direct deposits of almost $14,500 — and more than $7,000 in annual health care subsidies. Gluckin gets a $55,000 annual pension and about $6,600 in health care benefits.

Those payments are guaranteed for the rest of their lives.

“I don’t think, when you violate the public’s trust while you’re in public office, that you should be rewarded with a very generous pension system, primarily provided by the taxpayers of New York state, the very people you violated,” state Assemblyman Daniel Burling told Newsday. He’s sponsoring one of three pending pension reform bills.

New York, like Nevada, has no pension forfeiture laws. Government workers can use their positions for all manner of felonious conduct and never have to worry about their retirement.

Only last year, Congress recognized the wrongs of forcing taxpayers to support those who’ve committed crimes against them. In September, President Bush signed into law the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, which denies congressional pensions to federal lawmakers who commit perjury, bribery or fraud in the course of their official duties. Previously, senators and congressmen could lose their pensions (not to mention their lives) only if convicted of espionage or treason.

However, the law was not retroactive, allowing more than 20 congressional crooks, including Duke Cunningham and Dan Rostenkowski, to continue to collect their pensions despite their felony convictions for crimes committed in office. And the legislation was watered down to ignore convictions of offenses such as tax evasion, intimidation and racketeering.

New York shouldn’t make the same mistake. It’s egregious enough that private-sector workers must sacrifice and save for their old age while subsidizing the early, lavish retirements of government workers who already enjoy superior pay and benefits. Those who use government employment for personal gain shouldn’t be allowed to leech the public purse until the day they die.

The New York Legislature should amend the state constitution to prohibit future Frank Tassones and Pamela Gluckins from cashing in after committing crimes. The Nevada Legislature should do the same.

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