DRPA exec boosted pension with part-time job

Michael Joyce, the Delaware River Port Authority executive who resigned this week following allegations of E-ZPass abuse, improperly received pension credits last year for a part-time, $67,356 solicitor job in Pennsauken.

Records show he also received pension credits to which he was not entitled for a second, $18,200 solicitor position in 2008 with the Pennsauken Sewerage Authority.

The errors are significant because they boosted the Camden County Democrat's total pensionable salary in 2008 and 2009 to the highest levels of his 26 years in the system. Retirement payouts are based on the average of a member's three highest-paying years of service.

A law that took effect in 2008 bars those working under professional services contracts, such as attorneys, from receiving pension credits for those positions.

Joyce, contacted after an Inquirer analysis of his employment history, said he e-mailed the Division of Pensions and Benefits Thursday afternoon asking that they audit his pension records. He described the mistakes as administrative errors by local officials, saying they were not made at his direction.

Joyce is not receiving pension credit for either Pennsauken position currently, but state pension records reflect the earlier errors. Joyce could receive about $200,000 to which he is not entitled - or $8,366 a year - if the errors go uncorrected and he starts collecting his pension when he is eligible for early retirement in three years and lives to average life expectancy.

The Division of Pensions and Benefits will review Joyce's pension records to see if mistakes were made in how he received credits, Andy Pratt, a spokesman for the Department of Treasury, said Thursday.

"We rely on the employer to accurately report the status of employees as to whether they qualify for pensions," Pratt said.

Joyce resigned from his $180,081 DRPA post on Tuesday after coming under fire for borrowing another official's free E-ZPass for use by his daughter for 18 months.

Joyce said he met with Pennsauken officials repeatedly last year to tell them his position did not qualify him for pension credits.

"When I realized that there were [pension] contribution withholdings, I notified township administration that it was my opinion that these holdings should not be made and I was not eligible to be in the pension plan in that position," said Joyce.

He added: "I would never, ever make a claim for benefits for any of my Pennsauken service in 2009. I flat-out wasn't eligible for it."

Joyce declined to speak on why he received credits for the sewerage authority job, saying he could not remember the nature of his conversations with officials there.

The mistakes raised his total pensionable salaries to $193,068 in 2008 and $217,892 last year. The salaries should have totaled $174,868 in 2008 and $150,536 in 2009.

Officials at the township and sewerage authority said they erred and had misunderstood the new law. They pledged to resolve the issue with the state.

Pennsauken Mayor Rick Taylor said Joyce had told the municipal administrator and chief financial officer he should not receive the pension credits but "they didn't listen to him . . . We did it and we did it in error."

Robin Fair, treasurer of the Pennsauken Sewerage Authority, said she had misread a memo the state sent in 2008 elaborating on the change in the law. After checking it again Thursday, she said: "Now I see it as plain as day."

The new law aimed to reverse decades of pension rules favoring political insiders who leveraged part-time public jobs to collect retirement checks at or above the level of career government employees. New Jersey says the system is $46 billion underfunded; researchers elsewhere claim the true amount is four times higher.

Joyce's employment history offers a look at the widespread practice of holding multiple part-time jobs that rack up pension credits in New Jersey - a system that Gov. Christie has repeatedly attacked amid the state's fiscal crisis.

Pennsylvania Gov. Rendell called on the DRPA Thursday to adopt a "no outside employment" policy for employees at or above the level of director.

When Joyce was hired by the DRPA in 2004 as deputy general counsel at a salary of $107,292, he was also holding part-time jobs as prosecutor for Pennsauken - where he worked since the early 1990s - and solicitor for the township sewerage authority.

As prosecutor, he had always been entitled to pension credits. But in 2009, Pennsauken moved him to the solicitor's job, which paid more than double the salary.

A "contract for professional services" awarded January of that year named him and Timothy Higgins, another longtime township prosecutor, as the municipal attorneys. Joyce was "of counsel" to Higgins' Cherry Hill law firm.

Pennsauken allowed Higgins, along with Joyce, to improperly get pension credits for that position.

In May, township officials confirmed they had mistakenly kept Higgins in the system, but made no mention of Joyce. The Division of Pension and Benefits earlier this year began reviewing the pension eligibility of Higgins, another politically connected Camden County Democrat with multiple public jobs.

The probe of Higgins was part of the fallout of a December 2009 Inspector General's report questioning the pension eligibility of Michael Angelini, who until last month was chairman of the Gloucester County Democrats.

The report questioned how Angelini could have built up a pension worth about $100,000 a year when he appeared to be working as an independent contractor rather than a government employee in his numerous public jobs.

The Inspector General's Office referred additional names that arose during that investigation to the Division of Pension and Benefits, which sent out requests for information on 11 professionals to 41 government entities.

Those being reviewed include Mantua Mayor Timothy Chell and Carl Viniar, who practices law with Angelini.

Joyce said he and Higgins sat down with Pennsauken administrators and told them they were ineligible for pensions through their municipal attorney jobs.

In January 2010, Pennsauken approved a contract with the Law Offices of Timothy Higgins that entailed a $10,000 monthly retainer and no salary for Joyce or Higgins to serve as solicitors.

The Pennsauken Sewerage Authority, by contrast, wasn't even aware of its mistake until asked about it Thursday. The authority had been paying Joyce about $18,000 a year since 2004 to act as solicitor, but appointed someone in his place starting in 2009.

While holding those jobs, Joyce was made acting director of public safety of the DRPA in 2008. The agency removed "acting" from the title in December, resulting in a 20 percent raise.


Contact staff writer Maya Rao at 856-779-3220 or mrao@phillynews.com.