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Scranton employee pensions spark investigation

As more and more states and cities face funding crises with their employee pension plans, the city of Scranton is under investigation for giving sweetened pensions to six former employees who may not have been eligible for the extra benefits. The case is under independent investigations by the Pennsylvania State Police and the State Auditor General. In addition, the city's non-uniform pension board has retained an attorney to investigate the allegations.

The investigation is looking at pensions awarded to non-uniform city employees in 2002. The mayor at the time offered certain employees double pensions if they had 25 years of service and retired before Dec. 21, 2002. According to investigative articles by the Scranton Times-Tribune, six of the employees who received the enhanced pensions may not have completed the mandatory 25 years of service. One of the central questions in each of the investigations will be why were these employees awarded the extra benefits.

The pension issue is especially critical because it involves public officials and public money. Moreover, the non-uniform pension fund is expected to run out of money to pay benefits in about 2-1/2 years. According to one estimate, the six employees whose eligibility has been questions have collectively received $475,000 since the benefits were awarded. If the employees are determined to have been ineligible, they may be required to repay the extra benefits.

No criminal charges have been filed, and none of the investigating agencies has stated categorically that criminal conduct is suspected. Nevertheless, the investigation itself, regardless of its conclusions, has the potential to damage the reputation of any person who becomes a suspect. A person who becomes a target in such a probe can benefit from a consultation with an attorney knowledgeable about white collar crimes. The attorney can assess the facts, provide an estimate of success, and devise a strategy for dealing with the accusations. Most importantly, the attorney can remind the community that everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Source: Scranton Times-Herald, "Scranton double pensions under investigation," Terrie Morgan-Besecker, February 26, 2015

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