Sometimes, the right thing can feel so wrong.
Jerry Sandusky, crimes against children and all, is entitled to his state pension: about $5,000 a month.
It’s natural to think otherwise, to side with the State Employees’ Retirement System, which stripped the convicted pedophile of his pension earned from his years as a Penn State football coach.
It’s all a matter of timing and when a law becomes law.
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Sandusky, who retired in 1999, is serving 30 to 60 years at the state prison in Greene County after being found guilty two years ago of 45 counts of sex abuse inflicted on several boys going back at least to the 1990s.
The case rocked Penn State, its alumni and local residents, becoming a media supernova and ending Sandusky’s prominent local charity for troubled youth, The Second Mile. He maintains his innocence.
SERS and Sandusky are locked in a legal battle over the pension forfeiture. An arbiter Monday recommended that SERS reinstate Sandusky’s pension because Act 140 didn’t cover his offenses while he worked at Penn State.
That’s the state law stipulating pensions must be revoked if a SERS member is convicted of any of a long list of crimes while under public employment.
When Sandusky retired, though, sex crimes weren’t on the Act 140 list, and wouldn’t be added until 2004.
Some of Sandusky’s 45 charges were for crimes after 2004. SERS argues that Sandusky remained a compensated Penn State employee before and after the law changed, by virtue of provided football tickets, a campus office and free access to university athletic facilities.
Sandusky’s attorney, Charles Benjamin Jr., refutes that, saying the amenities were part of his client’s retirement package.
Michael Bangs, the hearing examiner, concluded Sandusky wasn’t an employee largely because he visited his office at his own leisure, answered to no one and was under no obligation to Penn State.
Moreover, Bangs said, records show Penn State gave Sandusky less than $5,000 from 2000 to 2008 in six separate payments — not 71 as stated by the controversial Freeh report that painted a university cover-up of Sandusky’s crimes.
Much as it pains us, we agree with Bangs.
SERS owes Sandusky the money.
The thought of a serial pedophile, even one destined to spend the rest of his life in jail, receiving public dollars is hard to stomach. It doesn’t seem right.
But in this case, it is.
Sandusky made pension contributions for 30 years as a SERS member. During that time, Act 140 didn’t address any of his assaults.
His post-retirement ties to Penn State, contrary to the state’s assertions, hardly amount to contractual employment as it’s commonly understood.
For many in this community and elsewhere, Sandusky can’t be punished enough. An annual pension exceeding the average local salary understandably fuels outrage.
But though it may be satisfying, we can’t practice retroactive retribution — even to a monster.
And then there’s Sandusky’s wife, Dottie Sandusky, the real beneficiary of the pension while her husband sits in a solitary cell.
While to some she could be guilty of turning a blind eye to his double life, no court convicted her of anything. If he’s entitled to the money, she is, too — if only to settle legal bills.
Some may wish she pays for his sins as well, but that’s unfair. States don’t halt lottery payments to families just because the winner went to jail.
To be sure, you can lose much — the rights to vote, to serve on a jury, to own firearms — with a felony conviction.
Sandusky lost his freedom, probably for the rest of his life. And deservedly so. But he should keep his pension.