PITTSBURGH - Target 11 is watching how your tax dollars are spent, and now we are taking a closer look at the taxpayer funded pensions.
Target 11 investigator Rick Earle found some law enforcement officers who were accused and even convicted of misconduct while in office, and they still go to keep their benefits.
Earle discovered that just because you’re convicted of a crime, it doesn’t mean you automatically lose your pension.
Former Allegheny County sheriff Pete DeFazio pleaded guilty to macing, or forcing employees to contribute to his campaign. But DeFazio still kept his $3,000 monthly taxpayer funded pension.
We reached out to DeFazio, who declined an on camera interview, but to this day, he maintains that he did nothing wrong.
DeFazio also told us he would have fought the feds but just didn’t have the money, and he didn’t want to risk possibly losing his pension.
Earle sat down to discuss the case with DeFazio’s attorney.
“Do you think this is guy deserves his pension?” asked Earle.
“Yes, personally I do. No question about it,” said Marty Deitz, who added that protecting and ensuring DeFazio’s pension was the top priority.
“We wanted to protect it. He had a long tenure in the sheriff’s department. Regardless of how his career ended, he did a lot of good things for this county, and we wanted to make sure he was able to reap some of the benefits of that hard work,” said Deitz.
Deitz said DeFazio agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of macing instead of risking a trial where more charges could have been added. A conviction of additional charges could have sent DeFazio to jail and stripped him off his pension.
DeFazio’s top brass, Lt. Richard Stewart, also pleaded guilty to misdemeanor macing. He gets $4,100 a month pension.
A jury convicted Capt. Frank Schiralli of lying to a federal grand jury. Even though it’s a felony, Schiralli still gets $3,500 a month.
Since 2005, the three have been paid more than $1 million dollars in taxpayer funded pensions.
“When you commit a crime that is directly associated with your job, and powers you have to me that is in a sense going against the public trust and you should lose your pension, “said State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale.
But Target 11 discovered under the state’s public pension forfeiture act, public employees only lose their pension if convicted of certain crimes associated with their office such as theft and forgery. The list includes approximately 20 criminal offenses, but macing and lying to a federal grand jury are not on that list.
“To me that goes against certainly the intent and certainly the spirit of the public forfeiture law,” said DePasquale.
What may be even more surprising, Target 11 discovered that neither are serious violent crimes like rape and murder.
State Representative Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) believes they should be. He’s sponsored legislation that’s now in the State House that would prohibit public employees convicted of any felony from collecting a pension.
“We need to protect the taxpayers from being violated this way by a criminal who's allowed to keep their pension after they committed a crime against their neighbor or fellow citizen,” said Metcalfe.
We also reached out to Schiralli and Stewart. We never heard back from Stewart but Schiralli told us he was relieved that he got to keep his pension, and he said he’s trying to put that part of his life behind him.