Johnston Pensioner Eluded State Retirement Board

Friday, December 03, 2010

 

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A GoLocalProv investigation has found that a Johnston official continued to work for the town and collect his pension benefit for three years before the state retirement board caught on.

After retiring from the Department of Transportation in 1989, George Corrente went to work for the Johnston building department in spring 1998—at three days a week and an annual salary of $32,500 as a consultant, according to town documents obtained by GoLocalProv. In 1999 his pay was bumped up to $55,775. At the same time, he was collecting approximately $48,000 a year in state pension benefits. (Click here to see the town documents.)

State law bars anyone who is in a state retirement system from being employed more than 75 days a year. Town records indicate that he was working double that—at least 156 days a year.

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State found out three years after the fact

But it was not until the fall of 2001—about three years after he returned to work—that the state retirement board found out about it. State officials are not sure how the situation was finally uncovered—but Dave Layman, a spokesman, said that the pension board’s investigator, Salvatore Lombardi was not involved in the case. Instead, he said it’s likely someone called in a tip and other staff hunted it down.

In 2001, the board cut Corrente’s benefit for that year. Each subsequent year, the state suspended his pension when he reached the 75-day limit, which was always October 1. But the state did not ask him to pay back the pension income he had earned in three previous years, Corrente told GoLocalProv yesterday.

Former Attorney General Arlene Violet told GoLocalProv she thinks the state should have. “The rules are the rules—you can’t double dip,” Violet said. “I think you have to be responsible for paying back the funds.”

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Corrente: ‘I … thought I was doing the right thing’

Corrente, who stopped working for Johnston in 2006, told GoLocalProv that he did not think the state law applied to him because he was technically a consultant, not an employee. “I honestly thought I was doing the right thing because I was not an employee of the town,” Corrente said.

However, town records suggest that in many respects Corrente was more of an employee than a consultant. For example:

Paid vacation time: he was eligible for two weeks of paid vacation time according to his 1999 consultant contract.
Health insurance benefits: he was eligible for medical insurance, according to a Sept. 18, 2002 letter that former Mayor William Macera sent out to all non-union personnel.
Signed employee drug policy: Corrente even had to sign a standard form for employees saying he had read and agreed to “the Town of Johnston’s Drug-Free Workplace Policy and Procedures.”
Received severance pay: when he stopped working for the town in July 2006, he received a severance payment of $25,940.24 for “accrued unpaid benefits.”

Corrente insisted that he was a consultant because he paid his own state and federal income taxes and had his paychecks from Johnston made out to his consulting business. As soon as the retirement board notified him that being a “consultant” did not exempt him from the law, Corrente said he and his attorney immediately complied. “We made an agreement that we would follow the rules and I would report to the retirement board every month,” he said.
 

 
 

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