Updated 4:15 p.m.
Philly’s pension fund is facing a multi-billion-dollar crisis. But it’s about to get a little healthier, thanks to the admitted corruption of a former elected official.
The Philadelphia Board of Pensions and Retirement has decided to terminate former Sheriff John Green’s city pension, which he accrued over more than two decades in office. Inspector General Amy Kurland’s office estimates Green’s total pension installments to be around $1.6 million.
The pension disqualification, which officials say is part of a concerted effort to curb corruption, is one of the largest in city history.
It was quietly approved via unanimous vote in late May, two months after Green pleaded guilty to felony conspiracy charges in a years-long bribery scheme. The ex-sheriff confessed to steering $35 million in city contracts to a campaign donor in exchange for $1 million in kickbacks. Green was first acquitted on those charges in 2018, only to take a plea deal rather than risk another jury at retrial.
The 71-year-old former now faces up to five years in prison.
“The city does not tolerate employees or officials using their positions to enhance their own wealth, and we thank the Pension Board for its actions,” Kurland said in an emailed statement. “This sends a clear and unified message that the City will take every step available to prevent criminals, like John Green, from benefiting financially at the taxpayers’ expense.”
Kurland’s office and the city’s Law Department signed off on the disqualification of Green’s benefits, which amounted to $8,465 per month.
Green’s attorney, Peter Scuderi, did not return a phone call for comment.
‘I betrayed the confidence’ ≠ $8,500 check
Voters installed Green as sheriff in the late ’80s, and he ran the office with tight control for 23 years. Throughout the decades, he became ensnared in numerous probes for allegedly mishandling taxpayer dollars and contracts.
Even his predecessors accused him of turning the office into a self-serving political apparatus. He would strong-arm employees into giving political contributions to his own re-election campaigns — a practice allegedly continued by outgoing Sheriff Jewell Williams.
“I have betrayed the confidence that the citizens of Philadelphia had in me,” Green told a U.S. judge at his unexpected guilty plea in April.
Pennsylvania’s Public Employee Pension Forfeiture Act states that proceedings for disqualification can start immediately after conviction. And the city has good reason to rush it.
Or several billion reasons.
This year, Mayor Jim Kenney pushed to increase the city’s contributions to its pension fund by $30 million annually. That’s a lot of money, but it’s still only a fraction of the $8 billion in unfunded pension liabilities currently facing the city. At this increased rate, the city expects to cover 80 percent of pension obligations by fiscal year 2029 — a full year ahead of schedule.
Philly’s misconduct savings
Righting the city’s pension coffers gets a lot easier when pensions are disqualified. To date, the Philadelphia Inspector General’s pension qualification program has saved over $33 million, according to a spokesperson.
This is not the first instance of a public servant losing their pension checks after being found guilty of workplace malfeasance.
In 2011, the board voted to revoke the pension of a former Philadelphia police officer Tyrone Wiggins after his sentencing to a minimum of 17½ years in prison on numerous sexual assault charges. Wiggins was found guilty of coercing a 12-year-old teenage girl into a sexual relationship.
The disgraced officer appealed the ruling, claiming that his repulsive crimes were not technically committed during official duties. The Court of Common pleas roundly denied his appeal, records show.
Pensions have been scuttled at the state level as well. Nearly all of the state officials involved in the infamous 2006 “Bonusgate” scandal. But government watchdogs say there’s room for improvement, as numerous commonplace crimes in government do not qualify for pension disqualification.
In March, Gov. Tom Wolf signed off on a bill with bipartisan support to expand the number of crimes covered under the Pension Forfeiture Act. The new law will also impose forfeiture immediately upon conviction. As is, the pension revocation only goes into effect once a judge imposes a penalty.
Green is schedule for his sentencing in August.