Barranco ordered to repay $764G to pension fund
By Erin Smith, email@example.com
Updated: 10/27/2011 08:32:49 AM EDT
Ah the perks of public service!
In June, Barranco was placed on unpaid leave as head of MEC after the state inspector general released a report alleging Barranco misused millions in taxpayer funds, using the money to renovate and decorate his Lake Winnipesaukee and Florida vacation homes
BOSTON -- Pension officials docked the retirement pay for a former Groton-Dunstable school superintendent under federal investigation and continued to probe possible pension abuse by former Tyngsboro Superintendent David Hawkins and former North Middlesex Regional School Superintendent James McCormick.
John Barranco, who is under federal investigation for allegedly misusing millions in public funds intended for local special-education students at Billerica-based Merrimack Special Education Collaborative, won't be eligible to collect a pension check again until April 2018 under the Oct. 20 ruling.
Pension officials say Barranco, whose annual pension tops nearly $158,000, earned a higher public salary than allowed while cashing his pension checks. The Massachusetts Teachers' Retirement System ruled Barranco must repay the pension fund $764,504, the equivalent of more than six years worth of pension checks.
Barranco has appealed the decision to the Contributory Retirement Appeal Board, according to Sean Neilon, a spokesman for MTRS.
Nicholas Poser, Barranco's attorney in the pension proceedings, said the appeals process takes many years and criticized the decision.
"It's based on speculation and innuendo. It was frankly a decision that was made before the hearing," said Poser.
Poser said pension officials have no proof Barranco was ever directly paid by a government agency while he collected a pension.
Pension officials say Barranco retired from the publicly funded collaborative in 2005, but continued to work for the related nonprofit Merrimack Education Center. The collaborative used taxpayer money to reimburse MEC for more than half of Barranco's salary, which topped $500,000, MTRS officials alleged.
Pensions officials are also investigating whether Hawkins and McCormick broke any pension laws while working at MEC, which state officials allege was funded with public money meant for special-needs students at the collaborative. Barranco hired Hawkins and McCormick to six-figure jobs at MEC shortly after they retired from their school districts and began collecting pensions from their former superintendent positions.
Hawkins receives $97,600 in annual pension pay, while McCormick's annual pension is $111,600. McCormick, who also works part time as superintendent in Mason, N.H., earned $95,378 last year in that job, according to the district's budget.
Hawkins declined comment when reached by phone yesterday. McCormick did not respond to messages left at his Townsend home or at his Mason, N.H., office yesterday seeking comment.
State law allows Barranco and other pensioners to work for government organizations in Massachusetts after retirement, as long as they work for no more than 960 hours per year or earn more than the difference between their retirement pay and the current salary for the position from which they retire.
The MTRS previously docked Barranco's pension for $51,242 last year after the organization found he had exceeded retirement earning limits.
The pension ruling is the latest in a series of blows to what state officials allege was Barranco's once-high-flying lifestyle funded with special-education taxpayer dollars.
In June, Barranco was placed on unpaid leave as head of MEC after the state inspector general released a report alleging Barranco misused millions in taxpayer funds, using the money to renovate and decorate his Lake Winnipesaukee and Florida vacation homes. The MEC board fired him last month.
It's possible Barranco could lose his pension permanently because state law requires public employees convicted of misappropriating government funds to forfeit their pensions.
Federal prosecutors are investigating the allegations that Barranco and other former local school superintendents misused at least $37 million at the Merrimack Special Education Collaborative over several years, spending money meant for special-needs students on restaurant meals, parties, bar tabs, golf outings and out-of-state trips.
Barranco's ex-wife, Charlene, who receives about $40,000 of his annual pension as part of their divorce agreement, according to documents, will not have her portion of Barranco's pension docked as part of the recent ruling, but she will have to forfeit her payments if Barranco were to lose his entire pension through a criminal conviction, according to Neilon.
Barranco is also facing thousands of dollars in potential fines and a civil lawsuit from the state Ethics Commission. Ethics officials allege Barranco broke the state's conflict-of-interest law when he hired lobbyist Richard McDonough for a no-show job with a six-figure salary, medical and dental benefits, and a public pension he wouldn't have been eligible to collect otherwise.
McDonough, who was recently convicted on federal corruption charges in a case involving kickbacks taken by former House Speaker Sal DiMasi, actually worked as a contract lobbyist for MEC, according to state officials. Ethics-enforcement agents want the commission to authorize a civil lawsuit against the pair to recoup the hundreds of thousands of dollars McDonough reaped in salary, medical benefits and pension checks.
Barranco's lawyer, Thomas Kiley, filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on Sept. 8, arguing the commission doesn't have jurisdiction over Barranco because he retired in 2005 and currently lives in New Hampshire. The commission denied the request four days later, striking down that argument. The case has been put on hold until January, when the commission will schedule a pretrial hearing.
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