TRENTON – The Senate Judiciary Committee today approved a bill, sponsored by Senator John H. Adler to cancel pension benefits and impose mandatory prison terms for convicted public officials.
“Public officials who betray their public trust through felony convictions don’t deserve to be rewarded with lifetime pension benefits,” said Senator Adler, the committee chairman. “The message for those convicted of public corruption is that you will go away to prison and there will be no exceptions.”
Senator Adler, D-Cherry Hill, said his bill, S-2439, would provide mandatory sentences of 10 years for a public official convicted of a crime of the first degree; five years for a crime of the second degree; two years for a crime of the third degree, and one year for a crime of the fourth degree.
“There is a perception that public officials always get to cut deals to avoid jail time if they are convicted of crimes,” Senator Adler said. “This bill will end the ‘inside game’ of dealmaking by public officials who get caught in a web of corruption.”
The Adler proposal would apply to any crimes public employees or elected officials commit involving their public office or employment. Crimes for which the mandatory prison terms and pension benefits forfeiture would apply include theft by extortion, commercial bribery, money laundering, bribery in official matters, tampering with witnesses, official misconduct, and speculating or wagering on official action or information.
“It’s unconscionable to continue retirement benefits for those who abuse their positions as public officials,” Senator Adler said. “We shouldn’t coddle criminals by keeping their public pensions in place once they are convicted. This legislation could serve as a deterrent to criminal activity by public officials. Right now, most pensions aren’t touched even when their recipients are sent to jail.”
Senator Adler said mandatory minimum penalties are designed to prevent deals from being made by those with political connections.
“The mandatory provisions in the sentencing simply takes the subjectivity out of the potential relationship involving the judge and the person who betrayed the public trust,” Senator Adler said. “It actually makes it easier for judges to impose the proper sentence.”
The Adler measure now faces a floor vote in the Senate. It was approved by the panel without opposition.