Friday, July 31, 2009

Corrupt Offiicals Can Count On Pensions At Taxpayer Expense

New Jersey and corruption go hand in hand, but in the end, it's the taxpayers who get fleeced. If a corrupt politician goes to jail, they don't have to worry about their retirement years, since any politician who was entitled to a pension gets to keep it, even if they were convicted of corruption, stealing government monies, or any other criminal activities.

New Jersey's government pension obligations are a mess. The state is short nearly $33.4 billion.
In all, 26 current or former public officials were among the 44 people arrested July 23 after a two-year money-laundering and bribery investigation led by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Nineteen of those officials participate in the state-run pension system, records show.

Each is accused of accepting cash payments, of $5,000 to $30,000, in exchange for their help on construction projects proposed by Solomon Dwek, a cooperating government witness recruited by prosecutors after his 2006 arrest on bank fraud charges. Also charged last week were five rabbis in Brooklyn and Deal, and other suspects who allegedly helped to launder millions of dollars or accepted cash for political campaigns.

All have denied wrongdoing.

The scheme alleged by federal prosecutors, critics say, may be the push that New Jersey needs to end abuses in a pension and benefits system widely considered a disaster: It took in $1.74 billion from taxpayers in fiscal 2008 even as it fell $33.4 billion short of its obligations.

“The time is now,” said Paula Franzese, chairwoman of the State Ethics Commission and a Seton Hall law professor. “There’s been a significant betrayal of the public trust. It’s time for all lawmakers of substance and good faith to come together in a non-partisan way.”

Right now, only state pension trustees have the power to revoke retirement payouts and health insurance. But in instances involving criminal matters, a ruling could take years, because the criminal cases must be resolved in court.

Last year, Republican lawmakers proposed bills to automatically remove indicted public officials from office, but the measures fizzled.
Democrats thwarted the measure. All but two of the political figures arrested in the major corruption bust last week were Democrats. Protecting their own? Perhaps.

It should be a no brainer that someone who engaged in corruption should not be entitled to obtain their pensions. It would provide a deterrent factor to engaging in corruption, particularly if you look at the money involved. Then again, that's probably too optimistic.

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