SAL DIMASI betrayed the public trust, disgraced his office, and deserves every minute of the eight-year prison sentence he received last week. For all the time he serves, he will lose the comfortable pension that comes with having spent 30 years in the Legislature. Massachusetts law prevents public employees from receiving their pensions while serving time in prison, but it requires an official vote from the State Retirement Board, headed by Treasurer Steve Grossman, for him to lose his pension permanently. State law allows for corrupt officials to be stripped of their pensions if their misdeeds are directly linked to their service in office. DiMasi should qualify.
Pensions are a part of a state legislator’s implicit employment contract, but public officials who are convicted of corruption obviously have not kept their end of the deal. Thus, the Retirement Board must weigh the consequences of denying support to DiMasi when he leaves prison against the importance of sending a message against corruption. It’s not a small matter: Stripping a pension removes a vital source of income for state officials, who don’t qualify for Social Security. But for that same reason, it’s a meaningful deterrent against corruption.
The board has revoked pensions for less serious offenses. DiMasi’s predecessor, Thomas Finneran, lost his pension for obstructing justice by denying his role in the legislative redistricting process after the 2000 census. John “Jackie’’ Bulger, the youngest brother of Whitey Bulger, lost his pension from serving as magistrate for lying under oath about his communications with his brother.
While lying under oath about the whereabouts of a fugitive may be only marginally related to being a magistrate, there is a very direct connection between being the speaker of the Massachusetts House and taking kickbacks. By participating in a bribery scheme to promote a software contract, DiMasi directly abused his office. Meanwhile, he has already received more money from the pension fund in two years of retirement than he paid in, so he won’t will not be deprived of a single dollar that came directly out of his salary.
At a time when retirement benefits to public employees are under scrutiny on the grounds of hardship to the state, it would be a mistake to allow a corrupt politician to keep receiving a generous paycheck.