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Why do convicts still get city pentions ?

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Why do convicts still get city pentions ? Empty Why do convicts still get city pentions ?

Post  Old Mack Tue Jul 26, 2011 10:02 pm

I guess because liberals have been in office for the last 50 years.

Felons taking big bucks from the city's hard up pention fund

By CATHERINE LUCEY & MICHAEL HINKELMAN of the profit driven ultraliberal Philadelphia Daily News

FORMER MOUNTED Police Officer Walter Helinsky lost his job, his freedom and his dignity eight years ago when he was convicted of repeatedly sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl he met in a riding club.

One thing he didn't lose: his city pension.

Helinsky's young victim testified at his 2003 trial that the two had sexual contact at least 150 times - at the riding club, in his Oxford Circle home and on a police horse while he was wearing his uniform. The veteran of more than 30 years, convicted by a jury, wept as he was sentenced to prison for his crimes. But although Helinsky, 69, served prison time and retired under a cloud of shame, he still gets his $2,827 monthly city pension, which began in 2002. He's received more than $310,000, collecting even while he was behind bars.

Helinsky - whose case was never reviewed for pension disqualification - is not the only felon getting a city pension check. A Daily News review of records over the past decade found at least eight former city workers convicted of felonies who are receiving pensions. In all, at least $1.2 million has been paid out from the city's cash-poor pension fund in benefits to felons since 1999. The fund, one of the nation's weakest, has less than 50 percent of the assets needed to pay projected benefits.

Jason Bologna, the prosecutor in Helinsky's case, was stunned to learn that the registered sex offender, who was paroled in April, was receiving a pension. "Somebody who is convicted of a felony offense and went to state prison for [that] conduct should forfeit their right to a pension, especially when it's a sexual offense against a child," said Bologna, now a federal prosecutor.

Why are these felons getting public benefits after betraying the public trust? Most have benefited from pension rules with both legal and procedural loopholes. "I think part of the problem historically is there is no centralization on how we deal with pension issues," said the city's inspector general, Amy Kurland, a former federal prosecutor, who has sought to improve the process since taking the job in 2008. "There's a lot of places the ball could get dropped." After questions from the Daily News, Kurland said Helinsky's pension would be reviewed to see if it met disqualification criteria. The city has also opened reviews on four other felons receiving pensions. The pensions of the remaining felons were either already under review or didn't meet the criteria for disqualification.

Helinsky said any decisions regarding his pension were up to the city and the Fraternal Order of Police. But he stressed that without the monthly benefit, he'd be destitute. "I worked 34 years for the city," said Helinsky, from his Mayfair home. "I have no idea what I'd do . . . Who's going to hire a 69-year-old with a conviction like that?" Helinsky is a "lifetime sex offender" under the state Megan's Law.

The rules surrounding pension disqualification are complicated. Under the city retirement code, you forfeit your pension if you are convicted of perjury, taking or giving bribes, corruption, theft, embezzlement or malfeasance in connection with your city job. State rules also cover forgery, records-tampering, witness intimidation and oppression through your public job. But, if you commit a crime with no clear ties to your public job, you may keep your pension. A recent example: former Police Inspector Daniel Castro, who last month pleaded guilty to extortion conspiracy.

His attorney, Brian McMonagle, contends that the offense did not involve Castro's police job, meaning Castro should keep the $4,795.04 monthly pension he's been getting since November. However, Castro was also convicted in April of lying to the FBI during an interview in his then-police office in South Philadelphia. Castro - whose pension was already under review - has declined to comment, saying media coverage of his case has not been fair. If he keeps his pension and lives to 75, the most recent census projection for life expectancy for men, he could collect up to $2.2 million.

State and city rules don't list violent crime or sex crime as a cause for losing your pension, although if those crimes were committed in the course of official duties, they could come under "malfeasance in office." That could impact Helinsky, who was accused of molesting his victim while in uniform. But a sex crime or act of violence committed entirely on your own time doesn't eliminate your pension.

Former Police Officer Adrian Makuch pleaded guilty last year to to unlawful contact with a minor, attempting to lure a child into a motor vehicle and patronizing a prostitute. But because there was no connection to his city work, he gets to keep his $2,203 monthly pension, said Fran Bielli, executive director of the Board of Pensions.

"I don't even know that I'd call it a loophole," Kurland said. "This is the law. If the facts don't fit with that, then they don't. It's not really so much a loophole; it's whether you can argue the facts to fit the law. Sometimes it fits and sometimes it doesn't." But there's still another gap in the system. Several more people identified by the Daily News do seem to meet the disqualification rules, yet never lost their checks - like the case of Helinsky. Kurland said that past cases may have slipped through the cracks because no one city office or department handles this process.

"We're trying to get this centralized. I think we're doing a much better job," she said. "We're trying to follow through on convictions. But we can't just be looking in the paper every day to see if there's a city employee that's been convicted." To disqualify someone from a pension, Kurland said, the Law Department must review the case and provide a recommendation to the Board of Pensions. That legal review typically comes after the Inspector General's Office sends over a certified copy of the conviction. On July 15, when former Department of Human Services employee Dana Poindexter was found guilty of child endangerment, recklessly endangering another person, and perjury in the 2006 starvation death of 14-year-old Danieal Kelly, the Pension Board requested a legal review of his pension, said Bielli.

Over the past decade, the city has disqualified 42 people from the pension system - the highest-profile example being former City Councilman Rick Mariano, who was convicted of taking bribes. Even when someone is stripped of his pension - or voluntarily gets out of the system - he gets his contributions back. Kurland said that when she first took her job, there was no clear process to make sure that city workers convicted of felonies were reviewed for possible pension disqualification. Under the old system, she said, a staffer would call the district attorney for information if she saw something in the newspapers about a city worker on trial.

Now, Kurland says, the IG's office is often involved in the investigation and prosecution of city workers and they get all conviction information from the U.S. Attorney's Office. But she still doesn't know if they get all the details on cases handled by the district attorney or cases that involve cops. "I think there needs to be some kind of centralized place that has their hand in this that follows through," Kurland said. "All of our cases, it's easy to follow through. But we don't do police cases here, so we're totally dependent on the Police Department or the prosecutor to give us the information."

Tasha Jamerson, a spokeswoman for the district attorney, said the D.A. in the past operated under the expectation that the city would keep track of city workers convicted of crimes. "From now on, the D.A.'s office will be working with the Inspector General's Office to make sure that cases don't slip through the cracks," Jamerson said. Bielli stressed that the cases identified by the Daily News that slipped through the cracks predated his and Kurland's appointments and their efforts to improve the disqualification process. "Amy wasn't here, I wasn't here. They were never referred to the Pension Board," he said.

Although Kurland can work to make sure there is a tighter system for reviewing pension disqualification, extending the law to cover more felons would have to happen through legislation at the state level, or from the mayor and City Council. Last year, Councilman Frank Rizzo spoke about holding hearings on changing the rules for pension forfeiture, but that never happened. His staff said he won't be taking the issue up because he will leave office in a few months. Finance Director Rob Dubow said the city hasn't had any conversations about whether to broaden the law.

The cases that sparked Rizzo's interest were the arrests of several police officers for violent crimes. Former Officer Rudolph Gary was arrested last year for killing his brother-in-law, and former Officer Frank Tepper was charged with murder for shooting and killing a 21-year-old in a streetfight. Gary has withdrawn from the pension fund. Tepper remains in the fund, but is not yet of retirement age, according to Bielli.

A majority of city employees-turned-felons discovered by the Daily News to be receiving pensions are former police officers. The Fraternal Order of Police appointee to the Pension Board, Ron Stagliano, said the FOP doesn't lobby on behalf of officers convicted of felonies to help them keep their benefits.

"The FOP is not in a position of supporting convicted criminals," Stagliano said. "However, as law-enforcement officers, we don't believe the board should go beyond the scope of the law." Kurland said that keeping on top of this problem is important, not just to punish workers who abuse the public trust but to send a message to other city employees. "No. 1, it's a lot of money. But No. 2, it's a huge a part of deterrence. I think there's an awful lot of people who don't really care if they go to jail for a couple of years as long as when they get out they're going to get their pensions," Kurland said. "I think if people knew they were going to lose their pensions when they commit a crime, that's going to be a huge deterrent factor."

Old Mack
Old Mack

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