The Firefighters Retirement System of Louisiana has sued Jefferson Parish’s top fire protection official and several others in the East Bank Consolidated Fire Protection District for not paying into the system from which they collect benefits even though they work full time.
The suit involves a practice by which employees retire and start collecting benefits, only to immediately return to work with more or less the same job but without being re-enrolled in the state retirement system, meaning they don’t have to make further contributions.
The practice has been called pension fraud by Robert Burkett, president of Jefferson Parish Firefighters Association Local 1374.
It has come under increased scrutiny of late, and the suit seeks to have a 19th Judicial District Court judge in Baton Rouge rule that Jefferson Parish Director of Fire Services Joe Grecco and seven others should either be paying into the system or not taking money out of it.
The other defendants are Assistant Director David Saunders, information technology specialist Arthur Zink Jr. and clerk-typist Kathleen Donovan, along with two members of the district’s Local Emergency Planning Committee — Hazardous Materials Risk Coordinator Robert Darcy and Assistant Coordinator Steven Mutz — and two members of the Fire Training Center — administrator Scott Berthelot and instructor Michael Reason.
The lawsuit cites the Office of the State Examiner’s recent findings that their positions are full time and should be classified, and also notes that Grecco, Saunders and Donovan collect supplemental pay, which is available only to full-time positions of at least 40 hours per week.
The lawsuit says the examiner’s report found that Donovan retired as a state classified fire records clerk on June 25, 2004, only to become a clerk-typist the following day. The report found she “performed essentially the same job” since 1988.
“It appears that she was permitted to retire from the classified position of fire records clerk in order to be rehired by the parish in a parochial civil service position, but without a change in duties or duty area,” the lawsuit says.
Attorney Steven Stockstill said the state retirement system has not calculated how much the defendants have collected in benefits or avoided contributing to the system.
However, the lawsuit says that if the practice were to become widespread, “the resulting financial damage could prove catastrophic to (the Firefighters Retirement System) and its employer base.”
Stockstill said the system wants a judge to establish what the law says about the practice. It could be found to be legal, or the judge could rule that the defendants should be forced to pay back the improperly obtained benefits or to make the contributions they missed while not enrolled.
Grecco said he could not comment on the suit, referring a reporter to the fire district’s attorney, who could not be reached.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.