AUGUST 13, 2007
A northeastern state well known as a hotbed of public corruption has taken a hard line against crooked politicians by slashing the taxpayer-funded pensions of those convicted of corruption or ethics transgressions.
New Jerseyâ??s Public Employees Retirement System, the board that oversees the retirement benefits of the stateâ??s public employees, has sent a powerful message by severely cutting the benefits of several lawmakers recently convicted of corruption-related crimes.
The board is simply enforcing a much-needed law that went into effect earlier this year and forbids a government employee from collecting public pension benefits after a corruption conviction or guilty plea. The legislation was created to target a statewide epidemic of politicians who accept bribes, launder money and participate in fraud in the course of their work.
Among those stripped of their pension is former New Jersey Senate President John Lynch, who pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges last year and lost a nearly $20,000 annual pension amassed during almost two decades in the legislature.
A Hudson County Executive who admitted taking more than $100,000 in bribes and pleaded guilty to extortion and tax evasion had his pension reduced by 13 years–from $4,189 a month to $931 a monthâ??and was ordered to repay $92,166 in early retirement benefits he had already taken.
Others who have had their pensions slashed include a state assemblyman who pleaded guilty to two counts of corruption, a Mercer County Chief of Staff in prison after being convicted of 13 counts of corruption and an Essex County Executive who pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and mail fraud.
Two Democratic state lawmakers recently charged with fraud and corruption could be the next to get stripped of their hefty pensions. Veteran senators Wayne Bryant of Camden and Sharpe James of Newark are accused of illegally using their public office to enrich themselves and defrauding taxpayers out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process.
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