State officials convicted of federal corruption charges in Manhattan, the Southern District of New York, will lose their state pensions if the top federal prosecutor there succeeds in confiscating them under US forfeiture law.
Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney in the district, told the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption that it is a “galling injustice” that public servants who violate the public trust too often “draw a publicly funded pension” until their “dying day” – in effect stealing twice from the taxpayers they betrayed.
Bharara told the commission that his office, the largest of the 93 federal prosecutors’ offices in the United States, has begun to include forfeiture counts or petitions in all cases in which a state public official is charged with corruption-related offenses.
Far Reaching Actions
His actions are far reaching because they mean that a federal prosecution may successfully cause the loss of an important and valuable benefit of public office. To achieve his goal, Bharara may need to trump language in the New York state constitution that appears to prohibit the taking of legislators’ pensions. Several legal experts say Bharara has a good chance of succeeding because US forfeiture laws take precedence over state pension protections under the supremacy clause of the US Constitution.
Bharara aims to end what he calls the longstanding problem of jailed politicians continuing to collect public money with several initiatives. Prosecutors in his office filed notices on September 17 in two corruption cases that they were seeking to forfeit under the US forfeiture law the pensions of State Senator Malcolm A. Smith, State Senator Eric Stevenson, City Councilman Daniel J. Halloran, Mayor Noramie Jasmin and Deputy Mayor Joseph Desmaret, of Spring Valley in Rockland County.
“Convicted politicians should not grow old comfortably cushioned by a pension paid for by the very people they betrayed in office,” Bharara told the commission created by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
Bharara also said that the state law under which officials for decades have been able to collect their pensions despite corruption convictions is an “error of state law.”
More Forfeiture Actions
He noted that his office would consider civil forfeiture actions against the pensions of corrupt officials who were previously convicted and who failed to pay fines, forfeiture or restitution imposed at sentencing in order to satisfy those criminal judgments.
“Convicted politicians should not grow old comfortably cushioned by a pension paid for by the very people they betrayed in office,” he said.
Addressing the “Depth of Corruption”
In his remarks to the commission, Bharara acknowledged the depth of public corruption in New York.
“We have had to prosecute… Democrats as well as Republicans. In an age often decried for increasingly bitter partisanship, we can say that public corruption in New York is truly a bipartisan affair,” Bharara said.
Confronting the Corruption at State Level
Bharara’s actions are far reaching also because they attempt to address a problem at the state level, which has already been confronted at the federal level with such legislation as the Hiss Act and the Federal Pension Forfeiture Act. The Federal Pension Forfeiture Act requires that federal employees lose their pensions if they bribe public officials or witnesses, defraud or conspire to defraud the United States, or commit perjury.