Convicted Felons Cash in on Public Pensions in Minnesota

Updated: 11/04/2012 7:17 PM By: Beth McDonough

They were heinous, headline making crimes.  Each time, we exposed the scandals that cost them their careers.

The retired public employees can't leave the state, can't vote and can't own a gun because they're felons.  Convicted of the most serious offenses.  What they can do is collect their pensions.  Public retirement plans paid for in part, with your tax dollars.

We went digging online and found plenty of examples of convicts cashing in.

Including Michael Roberts, a retired veteran police officer.  Since he was a public employee, his pension is public information.  Roberts was convicted of feeding a gang member information for money and filing false tax returns.  Yet, he collects $6127 a month, for the rest of his life.

Roberts defends his pension insisting he served his time.  And now you help pay for his retirement. It's the law in Minnesota, but some question is it fair? 

Roberts argues, what's unfair about it?

Lawrence Martin oversees pension law in the state and helps to write it.  He says you can kill somebody and it has nothing to do with your public employee status.

Roberts isn't the only lawbreaker collecting a pension.  Clemmie Tucker, a St. Paul Cop snagged for distributing drugs collects $3908 a month for life.  Tim Rehak worked for the Ramsey County Sheriff's office when he was caught stealing money during a sting.  he collects $3498.  And U.S. Senator David Durenberger pled guilty to federal charges of unethical conduct and misuse of public funds while in office.  He collects a monthly pension of $7166. 

Jonathan Blake with the Freedom Foundation says some cases would shock people.  Especially, he says, the case of Bill Jacobs.  he's a former teacher, camp counselor, coach, lawyer and police chief of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

Jacobs, 68, is locked up in maximum security prison in Faribault, after admitting he molested young boys.  According to state law, while he's incarcerated, he doesn't collect a pension.  Yet, the second Jacobs is set free, which is expected to be in 12 years, 2024, he'll pull in a pensions worth $4499 every month until he passes away.

It's legal and it's the law in Minnesota. Twenty-five states including Minnesota don't have forfeiture laws for convicted felons.  The other half of the country does.

Representative Morrie Lanning (R), District 9A, told us if their crime had nothing to do with their state employment, I think that's an issue that shouldn't come into play.  But if it has, then that's a legitimate question in terms of if they should continue to get a pension fund.

Roberts, Tucker, Rehak, Jacobs, these are the names of convicted felons that we know of.  But because the state doesn't keep a database or any records on how many felons are eligible to get their government pensions no one really knows. 

Laurie hacking runs one of the state's three big pensions plans.  She says it's an issue worth examining.

The Freedom Foundation of Minnesota is an independent think tank.  It doesn't take sides but keeps tabs on election year issues like the state's underfunded pension system.  It's short $246 million a year.  The organization told us this is the time for everything to be on the table when it comes to pension reform and this seems like a logical place to start.

We talked to the heads of the three main pension plans.  None of them have plans to change the policies.  They say no one's raised the issue, until we did. 

To watch Sunday's pension report click here.

Links for KSTP's Pension Investigation 

PERA (Public Employees Retirement Association) Fact vs. Myth on Pensions

TRA (Teacher's Retirement Association) Pensions Pump Billions Into MN Economy

MSRS (Minnesota State Retirement System) Pensions Are a Shared Responsibility

PEW Study on Charitable Trusts