JUNE 07, 2007
More than 20 members of Congress convicted of crimes continue receiving their federal pension at an annual cost of about $1 million to U.S. taxpayers and, if legislation isn’t passed soon, Louisiana Representative William Jefferson could be the next to cash his taxpayer-funded check from jail.
Even if Jefferson–caught hiding a $90,000 cash bribe in his freezer–is convicted of any of the charges in the 16-count bribery indictment issued this week, he will still get his publicly-funded retirement check for life.
This is because lawmakers refuse to pass legislation that will correct this atrocity. About a decade ago the House passed a bill that would strip pensions from members convicted of any one of 21 felonies but the measure was killed in the Senate. More recently, the House passed a bill that would strip pensions only from those with at least four felony convictions and the Senate watered that down even further.
In the meantime, elected officials who defrauded the public that entrusted them continue to get their checks while in jail. Among the better known names is Randy Duke Cunningham, the prominent Republican California Congressmen sentenced to eight years in prison for taking more than $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors. He gets a $64,000 annual pension.
Republican Ohio Congressman Bob Ney, jailed for taking bribes in the mega corruption scheme involving convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, gets a $29,000 annual pension and Ohio Democrat James Traficant – sentenced to eight years for racketeering and accepting bribes – receives $40,000.
The checks keep flowing after prison sentences are completed as is the case with former House Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski. The Illinois Democrat served a 15-month prison sentence for mail fraud and there was never a break in his $125,000 taxpayer-financed pension check.
One Illinois lawmaker criticized his Congressional colleagues for not passing legislation that will end this practice, pointing out that “officials convicted of violating the public’s trust should have no right to a retirement plan paid for by the public they betrayed.”
If legislators don’t act quickly, Jefferson will be the next to collect a hefty annual pension (about $50,000) while potentially serving time for racketeering, money-laundering and soliciting more than $400,000 in bribes.
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