Findings from TUA’s pension project on Harrisburg are featured in this article at the Times-Tribune.
HARRISBURG – Former state Sen. Robert J. Mellow’s legal fate is tied to a federal plea agreement while a state law will determine whether he gets to keep his sizeable pension or not.
Mr. Mellow collects a $138,958 annual taxpayer-funded state pension. When Mr. Mellow left the Senate at the end of 2010, he also collected $331,025 in a lump-sum pension payment from the state retirement system.
The 23-page plea agreement released Thursday by the U.S. attorney’s office makes no mention of Mr. Mellow’s pension. State retirement officials will use the state Public Employee Pension Forfeiture Act or Act 140 to determine if Mr. Mellow’s planned guilty plea to the crimes of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and filing a false federal income tax in relation to his job as a senator triggers pension forfeiture.
Under this law, pension forfeiture is tied to specified crimes relating to employment “that breach the (SERS) member’s duty of faithful and honest public service,” according to the State Employee Retirement System.
The specified crimes include bribery, forgery, perjury, tampering with records, false reports to law enforcement authorities and certain crimes like theft by extortion and misapplication of entrusted property that reach the level of a misdemeanor offense.
“For every potential forfeiture case, SERS staff reviews the official court documents to determine if the (SERS) member was sentenced or pled to an Act 140 crime and if there is a tie to the member’s employment,” said SERS spokeswoman Pamela Hile on Thursday.
Case law has held that a conviction occurs at the point of sentencing or entry of a guilty or no contest plea, she added.
Mr. Mellow’s annual defined-benefit pension is based on his leadership-based salary, 40 years in the Senate and monetary contributions he made.
SERS allows retirees to also collect a lump-sum payment like Mr. Mellow has done which reflect any or all of the salary withheld from his paycheck over the years along with four percent interest. Taking the lump sum reduces the annual pension amount.
A Chicago-based taxpayer group that is seeking reforms in public pensions released this week information it compiled about top public pensions in Pennsylvania. Mr. Mellow’s annual pension ranks second among the top 25 state lawmaker pensions, said Taxpayers United of America.
Among lawmakers, the top annual $286,118 pension is collected by former Rep. Frank Oliver, a Philadelphia Democrat, according to Taxpayers United. The third highest pension is collected by former Sen. Raphael Musto, the long-serving Luzerne County Democrat who retired in 2010. Mr. Musto has a $127,033 annual pension. A federal grand jury indicted Mr. Musto on charges that he accepted $35,000 in free building renovations from Wilkes-Barre developer Robert K. Mericle as a reward for supporting state financing for a commercial park built by Mericle’s company. Mr. Mericle has not been charged in the case. Mr. Musto’s trial was postponed from February to at least June 4 because his lawyers say he is too ill to prepare for his corruption trial.