2 ex-city workers have pensions cut off

Posted: August 26, 2011

TWO EX-CITY workers convicted of felonies who had been collecting pension checks for years were officially cut off yesterday.

The city Board of Pensions and Retirement voted to disqualify former juvenile probation officer Sherman Washington and onetime Municipal Court employee Gladys McDowell.

Both were reviewed for disqualification after being named in a Daily News report, which identified eight convicted felons receiving benefits. Washington, who pleaded guilty to theft and conspiracy in 2004, has received $102,590 since 2003. And McDowell, found guilty of tampering with public records in 2004, has collected $87,366 since 2002.

Neither pension was reviewed previously. Pension Board member Ron Stagliano said that he was "disturbed" that some pensioners got checks for years after convictions.

"We weren't notified by anybody at the time [of convictions], and I'm concerned that some people slipped through the cracks," said Stagliano, the Fraternal Order of Police representative.

Stagliano said that city officials are working to tighten the process.

Three other ex-city workers - who were not receiving pensions - were also disqualified yesterday. Based on those disqualifications, the board seems set to use a more-expansive interpretation of city pension rules in the future.

Workers can be disqualified under city or state pension rules. The city charter says that you can lose benefits if you are found guilty of perjury, bribery, corruption, theft, embezzlement or malfeasance in connection with your city job.

Malfeasance is not clearly defined, and in the past the Law Department has not recommended disqualification based solely on malfeasance.

But in disqualifying Laura Sommerer - a former city social worker who pleaded guilty to child-endangerment as part of the Danieal Kelly case - the board relied on the Law Department's opinion that endangering the welfare of children as a city employee, while not spelled out as a disqualifying offense, should be considered malfeasance.

Meanwhile, in Harrisburg, efforts are under way to tighten state disqualification rules.

Reps. Brendan and Kevin Boyle, Democrats who represent parts of Northeast Philadelphia, are working on legislation that would make a child-sexual-assault crime committed in the course of a public employee's official duties grounds for disqualification. Their initial bill had not included the requirement that the violation take place in public office, but Brendan Boyle said that they had been advised that the broader scope may not have withstood a constitutional challenge.

Also seeking to toughen the state pension rules are Rep. Josh Shapiro, a Democrat from Montgomery County, and Rep. Eugene DePasquale, a York County Democrat. They have penned amendments to a piece of pension legislation that would bar those convicted of institutional sexual assault, endangering the welfare of a child, neglect of a dependent person or bringing contraband into an institution. That legislation passed the state House earlier this year and has been sent to the state Senate.

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