St. Sen. under indictment could lose hefty pension
HARRISBURG - When he retires on Tuesday, State Sen. Raphael Musto (D., Luzerne) is set to receive roughly $117,000 a year in pension benefits for serving just over 36 years in the General Assembly, almost 50 percent more than he made as a sitting member.
But now, under indictment for allegedly accepting bribes, Musto would lose his hefty taxpayer-funded pension if convicted.
"This is the proverbial gold mine for politicians," said Eric Epstein, referring to the pensions. He is founder of Rock the Capital, a government reform group in Harrisburg.
With Tuesday the end-of-session retirement day for several dozen lawmakers leaving office because of retirement or election defeat, their departure calls attention once again to the benefits they collect.
Like Musto, other members with similarly lengthy careers in Harrisburg retire making more money than they did when they served.
That's thanks to a law enacted almost 10 years ago that hiked legislative pension checks by 50 percent. Most retirees also receive free health benefits for life and health coverage for their spouses.
"It's an extremely generous package that's not aligned with reality," Epstein said.
Legislation aimed at reining in exploding pension costs paid to government retirees was signed into law by Gov. Rendell on Wednesday. Among other things, it would reduce pension payouts by slightly lowering the percentage-based formula used to calculate benefits. Those sums are based on the average of the three highest-paid years in office.
The new law takes effect Jan. 1 and applies only to newly elected legislators and government workers. Therefore, it would not affect any of the 203 members currently serving in the state legislature.
At least two lawmakers convicted in separate corruption probes in as many years, have forfeited lucrative pensions: former State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo (D., Phila.) lost $100,000 a year pension and former Rep. Mike Veon (D., Beaver) will not receive $50,000 a year in retirement pay.
Pension benefits might be at stake for several other legislators who are awaiting trial in the so-called Bonusgate investigation led by Attorney General - now Gov.-elect - Tom Corbett.
Reps. John M. Perzel and Bill DeWeese, as former leaders of their respective parties and former speakers of the House, were paid considerably more than rank-and-file lawmakers and spent decades in the legislature, making them eligible for sizable pensions.
Perzel (R. Phila.), who this month lost the seat he held for 30 years, would be out at least $100,000 if he is convicted. There were no figures immediately available for DeWeese (D., Greene), who was reelected, but cannot serve in leadership because of the charges against him.
Senate Democratic leader Robert J. Mellow (D., Lackawanna), who is under federal investigation, retires Tuesday after 40 years. He has the plushest pension of all: $300,000 in annual benefits, nearly three times his salary.
In Musto's case, if convicted, he would face up to 10 years in prison for charges related to his alleged acceptance of gifts and services from an unnamed contractor in exchange for help in obtaining government grants.
Bribery is among the crimes under which state pension benefits must be forfeited.
Musto is to be arraigned in Scranton on Wednesday
Contact staff writer Amy Worden at 717-783-2584 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Tracie Mauriello contributed to this article.