DiSanto Introduces Bill to Strengthen Public Employee Pension Forfeiture Act

Harrisburg – State Senator John DiSanto (R-15) has introduced legislation, Senate Bill 611, to require pension forfeiture if a public employee or public official is convicted, pleads guilty, or pleads no contest to any felony offense related to his or her employment.

Currently, the Public Employee Pension Forfeiture Act requires a public employee to forfeit his or her pension only for certain crimes listed in the act. In practice, this law allows public employees charged with a forfeiture crime to plead guilty to a different non-forfeiture crime in order to avoid pension forfeiture.

“Any public employee who violates the public trust in this manner should forfeit his or her pension,” DiSanto said. “However, in too many cases, the guilty are able to strike a plea deal and continue collecting a taxpayer-funded pension. That needs to end.”

As an example, the senator cited the case of former high school principal Frank Michaels, who did not lose his $5,000-a-month pension by pleading guilty to a felony count of child endangerment, a non-forfeitable crime. Michaels was also charged with two forfeitable crimes of perjury and false swearing for lying under oath during a 2015 trial resulting from a sex crime perpetrated by a teacher on a student. In exchange for Michaels’ guilty plea, the other counts were dismissed.

In addition, the legislation ensures that such criminal convictions are reported to state pension boards. Current law does not require the employee, courts, or state agencies to send copies of court records upon conviction. Instead, pension boards learn of pension forfeiture cases through agency websites and newspaper articles. Under Senator DiSanto’s bill, courts would now be required to notify state pension systems of all pension forfeiture cases.

“It is time to close these loopholes and require offenders to face a financial penalty for violating the public trust. This would include making restitution to Pennsylvania taxpayers for financial losses to the public employer or paying fines owed as a result of these convictions out of the employee’s accumulated contributions,” DiSanto said.

CONTACT: Chuck Erdman cerdman@pasen.gov (717) 787-6801