by Andrew Staub
Jerry Sandusky might have gotten his public pension back, but one lawmaker wants to ensure taxpayers aren’t footing the bill for other sex offenders’ retirements.
State Sen. Larry Farnese, D-Philadelphia, plans to introduce legislation that would bar public officials and employees from collecting retirement benefits if they’re convicted of, or plead guilty or no defense, to crimes that require registration as a sex offender under Megan’s Law.
“The duty of public officials and employees to serve the best interests of the citizens of Pennsylvania is of the utmost importance,” Farnese wrote in a memo seeking support for his proposal. “To me, that duty is obliterated when a crime requiring registration under Megan’s Law is committed. Therefore, I believe it is imperative that offenders who commit these types of crimes should not be afforded the same benefits as public servants who abide by the law.”
A former assistant football coach for Penn State, Sandusky was convicted in 2012 of sexually abusing several boys over more than a decade. He was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison, and the State Employees Retirement Board stripped him of his $4,900-a-month pension.
Sandusky appealed, and the Commonwealth Court earlier this month ruled that the state needed to restore the pension. The court found that the SERS board “had no reasonable basis whatsoever to find that Mr. Sandusky was an employee of PSU when the underlying actions occurred.”
Though some of Sandusky’s offenses occurred in 1994, before he retired from Penn State, the court ruled those crimes occurred in his capacity at The Second Mile, a youth charity, and weren’t subject to forfeiture under the Public Employee Pension Forfeiture Act.
Enacted in 1978 and also known as Act 140, the law calls for pension forfeiture when a public employee is convicted of “any crime related to public office or public employment.” It originally did not include sexual crimes against children, but the state expanded the law in 2004 to apply to sexual offenses when committed by a school employee.
Sandusky’s crimes of indecent assault and involuntary deviate sexual intercourse fell under that redefinition of the forfeiture law — until the court ruled he wasn’t a Penn State employee at the time of the crimes.
Farnese did not return a message seeking comment about his proposal, but he introduced similar legislation in 2011, after the Philadelphia Daily News reported that several city employees still collected pensions after they were convicted of felonies, including sex crimes against children.
The senator has yet to introduce the legislation this session.
Despite his conviction, Sandusky actually cannot be found on the Megan’s Law list. According to Trooper Adam Reed, a spokesman for state police, Sandusky was convicted under a previous iteration of Megan’s Law that requires offenders to register only after their release from prison. A new version of the law requires registration through incarceration, Reed said.
Eric Epstein, an activist at Rock the Capital, a government reform group, said revisiting Act 140 would give the state the chance to make even more offenses subject to pension forfeiture. He ticked off a list including endangering the welfare of a child; exploitation of the aged, infirmed and institutionalized citizens; insider trading, nepotism and workplace harassment.
“We have a unique opportunity here to modernize Act 140 and close out some very egregious loopholes,” he said.
In the wake of the court’s decision regarding Sandusky, SERS is reviewing the case and will present an analysis to its board, spokesman Jay Pagni said.
The court ruling reinstates Sandusky’s pension retroactively and includes interest. The former coach had also taken a lump sum payout of $168,000 when he retired in 1999.