Sandusky Fights for Pension Via Satellite
Former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky testified for more than two hours Tuesday morning during his pension forfeiture hearing in Harrisburg.
Sandusky appeared via closed-circuit TV from State Correctional Institute-Greene in Waynesburg for the administrative appeals hearing with the State Employees’ Retirement System (SERS). He wore an orange prison jumpsuit and his hands were handcuffed during the proceeding.
Before testimony, Sandusky’s attorney, Chuck Benjamin, noted for the record that subpoenas were issued to former Penn State Athletic Director Tim Curley and retired Senior Vice President for Finance Gary Schultz to testify at Tuesday’s hearing.
Hearing officer Michael Bangs allowed both men to submit written testimony. Curley and Schultz invoked the Fifth Amendment in response, Benjamin said.
The former Penn State defensive coordinator’s pension was forfeited in October 2012 after a judge sentenced him 30 to 60 years in state prison for a conviction on 45 counts of child sex abuse.
At issue is whether the State Employees’ Retirement System’s (SERS) decision to revoke Sandusky’s pension under the Pennsylvania Public Pension Forfeiture Act was appropriate. The hearing officer will determine Sandusky’s status of employment with Penn State in 2004 and then make a recommendation to the SERS board.
In 2004, Act 140, which governs pensions for public employees, was amended to include as grounds for pension forfeiture the crimes Sandusky was convicted of — indecent assault and involuntary deviate sexual intercourse.
Benjamin argues that the agency cannot take away Sandusky’s pension earned during his time at Penn State as a professor and coach since the current law allowing such action was not in place when Sandusky retired from the university of 1999. Sandusky continued to coach the 1999 football season as an emergency hire, which Sandusky says was in effect for 95 days.
The attorney for SERS, Steven Bizar, began building a case Tuesday morning that attempts to show Sandusky’s employment continued with Penn State after his official 1999 retirement via a written agreement with the university signed by Sandusky and Curley. The agreement was good for five years and would have expired in 2004, the same year Act 140 was amended.
The 1999 written agreement included consent to continue collaborative efforts between Penn State and Sandusky related to outreach programs, including The Second Mile, a non-profit organization founded by Sandusky to assist at-risk children. SERS argues that the collaboration continued until at least 2009.
Additionally, Bizar argues that Sandusky received at least 71 payments from Penn State for travel, meals, lodging, speaking engagements and football camps between 2000 and 2008.
Sandusky denied those claims Tuesday saying such payments only occurred about three times during that time period.
Sandusky’s retirement and subsequent agreement also include many perks such as an office and phone on campus, tickets to games and access to football facilities.
Benjamin’s line of questioning and Sandusky’s responses attempted to show that the perks Sandusky received were similar to what others retired from the university received and not an indication he was still employed by the university.
“There were retired coaches who came into the training room, retired coaches who maintained an office at the university,” says Sandusky.
Additionally, following the 1999 football season, Sandusky says he never portrayed himself as a Penn State employee and did not receive a paycheck or employee tax form from the university.
Sandusky’s pension is reportedly for $4,900 a month. When Sandusky’s pension was revoked his wife, Dottie, also became ineligible for benefits.
Sandusky’s retirement agreement included $168,000 lump sum severance payment as an alternative to Sandusky’s request for an annual payment of $20,000 moving forward to support his wife, Dottie, Bizar said and Sandusky confirmed.
It was “a retirement perk because of my service to the university,” Sandsuky says. “I understood that to be Penn State’s decision as to what they’d be willing to do for me.”
Toward the end of Sandusky’s testimony, Bizar asked about his role as a volunteer football coach with Central Mountain High School in Clinton County where two of Sandusky’s victims attended school. During that line of questioning, Sandusky twice made a clarification saying, “alleged victims” and “alleged crimes.”
Sandusky also said he had interest in one day becoming head football coach at Penn State and participated in negotiations, that ultimately failed, to create a football program at Penn State-Altoona.
Attorneys have roughly 30 days to submit final written arguments to Bangs after which Bangs will make a recommendation to the State Employees’ Retirement Board. Subsequently, the board will reach a final decision. If the board denies Sandusky’s appeal, Sandusky has the right to appeal the denial to Commonwealth Court.