HARRISBURG — The Capitol tree was lit at noon on Friday in the Rotunda.
Santa Claus made an appearance.
But Christmas came early for former state Sen. Bob Mellow. His $245,000-a-year pension was reinstated despite a federal conviction for “conspiracy to commit an offense and to defraud the United States.”
The outrage has united Democrats and Republicans.
“That’s too much,” Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf said. “That shouldn’t happen.”
“I just think the taxpayers of Pennsylvania should be furious,” said Sen. John DiSanto, R-Dauphin.
DiSanto’s bill, Senate Bill 611, would close the loophole that allowed Mellow to cash in. Only certain crimes trigger pension forfeiture in the state and though Mellow admitted to committing those, he actually pleaded guilty to a different federal charge that created wiggle room under state law.
Sen. Chuck McIlhinney, R-Bucks, who is on the pension board and voted to reinstate Mellow’s pension, said he hated to do it but was advised by the board’s lawyers that Mellow would sue and win if his appeal was rejected, and that would cost taxpayers even more money.
DiSanto’s bill would yank all pensions for any on-the-job felony.
“I think it’s sorely needed because Mellow is just the latest in a long list of examples where this has happened,” DiSanto said, adding that he called Senate leadership this week asking them to make his bill a priority.
“Everybody knows it’s wrong,” said Capitol watchdog Eric Epstein of Rock the Capital. “The problem is the Legislature doesn’t have the cajones to fix the loophole that currently exists.”
Epstein says that lawmakers have been aware of the problem for years. “The reason the loophole has not been closed is there’s a lot of people profiting from going through the loophole.”
That nearly quarter-of-a-million-dollar-a-year pension won’t be the only thing under Mellow’s tree. ABC27 confirmed he’ll be paid for the 66 months his pension was suspended. It’ll be a lump sum of at least $1.3 million.
“That’s obscene,” Epstein said. “What it says is that crime not only pays in Pennsylvania but it pays with compound interest.”
Pension changes enacted in 2010 don’t allow anyone to earn a pension that’s greater than their actual salary. But everyone in the system prior to that year may still pull off the feat.