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YOUNGSTOWN Traficant can't lose pension



Published: Sat, May 19, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The congressman is eligible to receive his state pension benefits, which cannot be touched regardless of the outcome of his pending criminal case.

By DAVID SKOLNICK

VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- There is no chance U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. could lose his government pension despite facing a 10-felony-count indictment.

"The only way to lose your [federal] pension is by being convicted for committing an act of treason," said Jim Forbes, spokesman for the House Administration Committee.

A member of Congress convicted on any other criminal charge, no matter how severe, does not lose his or her federal pension, Forbes said.

A federal grand jury indicted Traficant on May 4 on 10 felonies including bribery, racketeering, tax evasion and conspiracy to defraud the United States.

A convicted congressman has never lost his federal pension.

For example, Dan Rostenkowski, the former chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, collects his $104,000 annual federal pension even though he was convicted in 1996 on two counts of mail fraud related to his actions as a congressman. He received a presidential pardon from Bill Clinton in December.

Said he won't resign: Traficant, 60, has said he will not resign from Congress, where he has served since 1985.

But if he were to leave at the end of this year, Traficant, who will receive $145,100 in salary this year, would get more than $40,000 annually for his basic federal pension, which begins when he turns 62.

If he left at the end of this year, Traficant would receive unspecified monthly retirement supplement payments until he turned 62.

Traficant's pension payment does not include any tax-deferred retirement savings, his state retirement pension for his 15 years of service with Mahoning County, plus medical benefits, nor his Social Security benefits.

Except for his state retirement pension, which is about $11,000 a year, the other figures are not available to The Vindicator.

State pension: Traficant's state pension for his 11 years as director of the Mahoning County Drug Program and four years as county sheriff cannot be touched, said Toba Feldman, Public Employees Retirement System of Ohio's general counsel.

Traficant, who turned 60 last week, is already eligible to receive his state pension and a basic medical plan that does not require premium payments, Feldman said.

Once someone who works for at least five years as a public employee in Ohio turns 60, even if he is employed elsewhere, he can receive those benefits, Feldman said.

Feldman would not say if Traficant has applied for those benefits, citing the agency's policy not to comment.

If then-U.S. Rep. Randy Tate of Washington had his way in 1996, a member of Congress convicted of any felony related to service in the House would be stripped of his or her federal pension.

The House passed Tate's Congressional Pension Forfeiture Act on Aug. 2, 1996, with Traficant one of the 391 congressmen voting in favor of it.

Measure died: But the Senate -- which heard testimony from the U.S. Justice Department that the law could adversely affect its investigations of malfeasance in office -- never approved the measure and it died.

In 1995, 14 congressmen-turned-convicts collected $667,000 in federal pension benefits, Tate said on the House floor in 1996.

Accusations: Traficant is accused of accepting money and labor from local businessmen in return for doing favors for their companies, and of requiring certain staffers to kick back a portion of their federal salaries and work on his houseboat and at his family farm on federal government time.

Traficant, who is not a lawyer, plans to defend himself during his trial, which is scheduled to begin Feb. 4, 2002.

House rules forbid members of Congress found guilty of any of the charges facing Traficant to vote until proceedings reinstate their presumption of innocence or until being re-elected to the House after a conviction.

After a conviction, that presumption is gone and Congress can remove a member even if there are outstanding appeals, according to House rules.

Most congressmen convicted of felonies have resigned. If they do not, the House Standards of Official Conduct Committee considers the matter and makes a recommendation to the full House for a vote.

Penalties: The penalties include expulsion, censure, reprimand, a fine, and/or denial or limitation of rights and privileges.

If Traficant leaves office before his term expires Dec. 31, 2002, the governor would schedule a partisan primary election and then a general election for a successor.

skolnick@vindy.com




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