Waste Watch: Corrupt and cashing in

Convicted felons are pocketing hundreds of thousand of your tax dollars year after year, and it's all perfectly legal.

All it took was a little digging through the 13WHAM archives and a little more digging on line to find nine ex-cons being paid nearly half a million dollars a year.

One of them broke into a home and rifled through a woman's underwear drawer. Another drove drunk and caused a collision that killed a cyclist.

They are public officials -teachers, cops, lawmakers who have all been convicted of crimes yet continue to collect their taxpayer funded pensions.

"The taxpayers are absolutely getting gouged," said Greece resident and activist Charlie Hubbard.

Consider what's happened in his town. Former Greece Police Chief Merritt Rahn lost his job, damaged his department, and went to prison for covering up crimes. Yet he still collects a $55,000 a year pension.

Gary Pignato - a former officer who was convicted of using his badge to coerce a woman into sex - collects more than $45,000 a year.

"The contributions to that contract by the taxpayers should stop right there. Everything should stop once there is a conviction," said Hubbard.

In the Town of Greece, pension costs for all employees top $5 million a year, about nine percent of the total budget.

"Contracts have been all one-sided and there are no expectations on the part of the people receiving the money," said Hubbard.

We had no problem finding plenty of examples.

Monroe County employee Robert Marone is in prison for taking kickbacks. He still collects a pension of $18,790 dollars a year.

Former Monroe County Sheriff's Deputy James Telban went to prison for driving drunk while off-duty and causing a crash that killed a motorcyclist. His pension is $30,412.

$39,807 a year for former State Assemblyman Jerry Johnson who was convicted of breaking into a staffer's home and rifling through her lingerie.

In 2009, Joseph Bruno was convicted of peddling his influence as a state senator. Yet he still collects $96,085 a year from taxpayers.

As head of the Monroe County Water Authority, John Stanwix was accused of steering contracts to his own company. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and continues to collect a whopping $98,658 a year in his pension.

"If they commit a felony while on their job they should forfeit their pensions," said NY Assemblyman Mark Johns (R/C) Fairport. Johns co-sponsored a bill that would do just that. A watered down version of it was enacted as part of the "Clean Up Albany Act."

It allows the state to strip all or part of the pension of a convicted felon but only after a hearing conducted by the Attorney General. Those currently convicted of crimes would continue to receive their pensions.

Johns says that does not go far enough and has reintroduced his original bill. "I can't believe this wasn't already enacted into law," he said adding "I'm going to do my best to make sure it does get enacted into law."

Mike Mazzeo is President of the Locust Club and sees things a little differently. "It can become an excessive punishment," he said.

He points out public employees earn their pension over 20 or more years of service. "You can be unfairly convicted of lower level crimes and yet bear the same excessive punishment that they use for the worst," he said.

A 13WHAM investigation into pensions going to nine public officials convicted of crimes adds up to a staggering $455,844 a year. "It goes beyond getting gouged," said Charlie Hubbard. "It should be part of every contract that if you are convicted of a crime you lose your pension."

Any future changes to state law would likely not impact those who are already convicted and collecting. Over a lifetime those payments add up.

Former Rochester Police Chief Gordon Urlacher was convicted in 1991 of embezzling from taxpayers. But those taxpayers have since paid him more than a million dollars since.

close video ad
Unmutetoggle ad audio on off