L.A. building inspector convicted in bribery will keep city pension
A veteran Los Angeles building inspector sentenced last month to prison in an FBI corruption case will continue to receive a yearly pension of more than $72,000, according to a high-level retirement official.
Samuel In, 66, pleaded guilty last year, admitting as part of a plea agreement that he took more than $30,000 in bribes while working as a senior inspector. He was sentenced last month to 2 1/2 years in prison after a federal prosecutor argued against leniency, mentioning his “substantial” pension.
Two years ago, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a measure requiring public employees convicted of a felony to give up retirement benefits earned during the period when their crimes were committed.
But the forfeiture requirement doesn’t apply to Los Angeles because it is governed by the City Council under a voter-approved charter, and the City Council manages its own pension systems.
In’s pension payments troubled Councilman Mitchell Englander, who said he would support city legislation targeting the retirement pay of employees found guilty of public corruption crimes. “If you are convicted of a felony and were utilizing your position” at a government agency, “you should have to forfeit the entire thing,” said Englander, who heads the council’s Public Safety Committee.
In’s attorney, Harold Greenberg, said his client “earned that pension” during 37 years on the job. In volunteered with multiple organizations and had significant support from community leaders, the lawyer said.
“He did a lot of good in the community, not only for the department but for civic groups,” said Greenberg, who submitted letters of support for In from leaders of groups that represent Korean American restaurant owners and senior citizens.
The issue of felons collecting government pensions has been a source of complaints from taxpayers and politicians.
State Sen. Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) objected last month after learning that the California Public Employees’ Retirement system was continuing to pay a $551,688 annual pension to a Vernon city official convicted of misappropriating public funds. Pension officials said they would cut the payments substantially starting in April.
Eva Spiegel, spokeswoman for the League of California Cities, said the state lacks the authority to regulate pension systems operated by charter cities. That was part of the reason Brown’s bill did not apply to retirement systems in L.A., San Francisco, Fresno, San Diego and San Jose, she said.
Jim Evans, spokesman for the governor, said L.A. and other charter cities have “unique constitutional powers and must make their own pension decisions.” Brown’s pension measure, which also had provisions scaling back benefits for new employees, is a model that “other charter cities should follow,” Evans said.
In, who retired in 2011, was portrayed by prosecutors as someone who took advantage of Korean-speaking business owners who applied for building permits in and around Koreatown.
During last month’s sentencing hearing, Greenberg asked the judge for leniency, saying his client suffered from the loss of his reputation and his job. Assistant U.S. Atty. Maggie Carter countered that In only retired when the bribery probe became public. She also cited his continuing city pension income.
On top of his $6,030-per-month pension, In receives a monthly healthcare subsidy of $1,459, said Tom Moutes, the top executive at the City Employees’ Retirement System.
In is not the only former city employee to earn a pension after a corruption probe. Eun Chavis, a former clerk in the city’s Housing Department, was convicted of bribery in 2010 and now receives a yearly pension of nearly $32,000. She also receives a $1,459-per-month health subsidy.
Former building inspector Raoul Germain, who pleaded guilty to taking bribes in 2011 and was released from prison last year, is also eligible to receive a pension. The size of that pension is not yet known because he has not begun taking it, Moutes said.
Rob Wilcox, spokesman for City Atty. Mike Feuer, said imposing a pension forfeiture requirement on workers at two city pension systems — one for public safety employees, the other for civilians not employed by the Department of Water and Power — would require, at minimum, a vote of the City Council.
If enacted, such a change would apply only to employees hired after the new law took effect, he said.
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