Bill would eliminate pensions for any state employees who commit felonies

Posted Feb. 16, 2012, at 7:55 p.m.
Paul Violette
Paul Violette
State Senator Roger J. Katz
State Senator Roger J. Katz
Les Fossel
Les Fossel

AUGUSTA, Maine — An after-deadline bill submitted by a Republican lawmaker would allow courts to revoke pensions for state employees convicted of felony crimes in connection with their work.

The bill was submitted just two weeks after it was learned that the former Maine Turnpike Authority director, who has pleaded guilty to stealing tens of thousands of dollars from the agency, would keep a $5,000 per month pension.

Paul Violette pleaded guilty to felony theft on Feb. 6 and will be sentenced at a later date. He faces a maximum of five years in prison but likely will serve a shorter sentence.

The proposed legislation would not apply to Violette since he already has his pension, but could apply to any future cases. It also would bring Maine in line with more than 15 other states that currently have pension forfeiture laws on their books.

“Violation of the public trust is a serious offense,” said Rep. Leslie Fossel, R-Alna, the bill’s sponsor. “Any public officer or employee found guilty of a job-related crime at that level could lose their pension, depending on the judgment of the court.

“The court would have discretion to make the final decision based on the facts of the crime itself. If it is egregious, the court would have the authority to order a forfeiture of the pension.”

Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, also has proposed a bill that would study what other states do before proposing any changes in Maine.

Fossel’s bill would allow courts to order the forfeiture of benefits of a public employee who is a member of the Maine Public Employees Retirement System. It would apply to individuals who are convicted of at least a Class C crime, as well as those who plead guilty or no contest to the charges. The only part of a pension the person would be allowed to retain would be the amount contributed by the member to the retirement system, without interest.

The new director of the Maine Turnpike Authority, Peter Mills, has acknowledged that a good portion of Violette’s pension will be used to pay restitution of about $155,000.

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