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Paying prisoner pensions

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Updated: 6/12/2013 8:29 pm
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Even those who enforce the law sometimes find themselves on the wrong side of it.  The question is, should they be able to collect their pensions if they're convicted of a felony? 

Action News took that question to the Executive Director of the Police and Fire Pension Fund, John Keane.  He said, "There are certain provisions in the Florida statute that could cause an individual to lose their pension benefits."

Keane says the law is clear.  If a public employee is convicted of a felony, and the specified offense willfully defrauded the public or the public agency for which they worked, then yes, their pensions can be revoked. 

That's what happened in the case of Karl Waldon, a former Jacksonville police officer convicted in the 1998 murder of convenience store owner, Sami Safar.

"Even if that happens, they are entitled to a refund of their contributions," said Keane.

A more recent case involved 25 year JSO veteran, Richard Cannon.  He was convicted of child molestation last year and sentenced to 30 years in prison.  But unlike Waldon, Cannon is collecting his pension.

After what Keane described as an extensive review by attorneys on both sides, the Pension Fund's Board of Trustees awarded Cannon his retirement benefits because it decided there was no connection to his crimes and his duties as a police officer.  His crimes were committed while he was off duty.

Action News asked, "Is it fair to say that if you're a police officer or firefighter, you're always on duty?"  Keane replied, "The city doesn't think so, because they don't pay them for 24 hours at a time."

John Winkler, local attorney and leader of the Concerned Taxpayers of Duval County, said maybe it's time to take another look at the law.

"They're always in duty.  That's the nature of the contract they sign.  And that's the nature of the commitment they make," he said.  "Police and firemen should be, and are, held to a higher standard."

The March arrests of former FOP leaders, Nelson Cuba and Robbie Freitas, have once again thrust this issue into the spotlight.  Both face racketeering and money laundering charges stemming from the Allied Veterans of the World bust. 

Right now, Cuba is not collecting a check from the city.  He's on voluntary leave without pay.  But Freitas retired after his arrest and is currently collecting his pension as he awaits trial.

Keane said, "Clearly understand, they have been charged.  They've not even had a trial much less been convicted."

If they are convicted, then their pension issues will go before the Board of Trustees, just as the law dictates.  Both men are due back in court in August. 
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