November 28, 2014

Public employee pension reform bill signed into law

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James Deeghan

James Deeghan

Observer staff report

Public employees who are convicted of financial crimes like embezzlement, theft and bribery can now be stripped of their pensions.

The new law, signed by Gov. Peter Shumlin on March 20, was prompted by a time sheet padding case at the Vermont State Police Williston Barracks last year.

Former Vermont State Police Sgt. James Deeghan pleaded guilty to two felony counts of false claims and two counts of neglected duty on Jan. 14. Deeghan logged nearly 1,000 fake tickets in an investigation going back six years, according to Chittenden County State’s Attorney T.J. Donovan, whose office prosecuted the case.

Deeghan had been a state police officer since 1990 before resigning in July after fraud allegations surfaced.

As part of a plea agreement, Deeghan will repay the state of Vermont using money from his pension for overtime he did not work, and his pension was reduced from $68,000 to $44,000.

Under the new law, judges can order that any public employee convicted of certain financial crimes forfeit some or all of his or her pension.

The judge is directed to consider several factors including the severity of the crime, the amount of money the state or town has lost, the degree of public trust placed in the individual and whether innocent family members depend on the pension.

The law will apply to new convictions.

“I believe that this pension forfeiture law gives us an important tool going forward to protect taxpayers and keep the public trust in those rare instances where a public employee engages in a crime for financial gain,” Shumlin said in a press release. “Our public employees are hardworking, honest Vermonters who also wanted to see this protection in place, and I appreciate the support we received from the public labor organizations in helping to pass this bill.”

Roughly half of all states have some type of law on the books dealing with pension issues linked to criminal cases.

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