A Manhattan federal appeals court on Wednesday ruled for the first time that New York’s constitution does not protect the pensions of corrupt state politicians against partial seizure to satisfy forfeiture judgments in criminal cases.
The Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruling in an appeal by convicted former Bronx Assemb. Eric Stevenson was lauded in a tweet by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who said, “Convicted politicians should lose pensions paid for by taxpayers they betrayed.”
Stevenson was convicted in 2014 of taking $22,000 in payoffs to support adult day care centers in his Assembly district.
Sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to forfeit $22,000, he argued on appeal that the money couldn’t be taken from his state pension money because New York’s constitution says officials’ state pensions can’t be “diminished or impaired.”
The Second Circuit ruled that federal forfeiture laws pre-empt the state constitution. The ruling, however, only permits seizing a particular amount of money. It does not mean that convicted politicians “lose pensions,” as Bharara phrased it.
Former Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate leader Dean Skelos, both convicted last year, are still entitled to collect pensions of $79,224 and $95,831, respectively.
Legislation has been adopted in Albany subjecting those who entered the system after 2011 to losing their pensions, according to the governor’s office, and the Legislature this year took the first step toward a constitutional amendment stripping those who entered the system before 2011 if convicted of corruption.