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Watertown retirement officials moving forward with pension review of guilty ex-police sergeant

Posted by Jaclyn Reiss  August 19, 2013 09:12 AM

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Watertown Retirement Board officials gave its lawyers permission Monday morning to collect court documents that would help them decide if they should take away the pension of a retired Watertown police sergeant who was convicted of drug charges in federal court last week.

Joseph Deignan, 58, of Framingham, pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court to stealing an ID while on the force, and using it to obtain oxycodone and other prescription drugs, according to the office of US Attorney Carmen Ortiz.

He was charged with unlawful possession of a controlled substance by fraud, and fraud in connection with identification documents, the prosecutor’s office said.

Federal authorities said that Deignan had stolen a driver’s license while working as a traffic supervisor in 2010 and used it to obtain forged prescriptions.

Watertown retirement officials said Deignan, who served on the department for 32 years, has been collecting an annual pension of $55,731 since his retirement in February 2012.

If Deignan's convictions are found to relate to his former job as police sergeant, town officials could try to take away his pension under state retirement law, said Thomas Gibson, the Retirement Board's lawyer.

"There is an implication from the US Attorney's office that an element of this violation traces back to when Deignan was an active police officer for the town of Watertown, and that triggers at least some action by the Watertown Retirement Board," Gibson said.

However, the process to invoke a pension forfeiture hearing could take weeks or even months. Gibson said Monday that he needs to collect documents such as the court docket sheet, the statement of case, and the plea colloquy to determine specifically what Deignan pleaded guilty to.

"It's important to see exactly what he’s admitted to and the substance of that conversation with the court in his plea admission. Then the board can review that and make the determination to consider proceedings under the retirement law," Gibson said.

Board officials have asked Gibson to report his findings at the next Retirement Board meeting on Sept. 18. They can then choose to go forward with summoning Deignan of a pension forfeiture hearing. He has 30 days to gain access to a lawyer if he so chooses, Gibson said.

Although some board members said Monday they wanted to accelerate the pension forfeiture process, Gibson said all the necessary steps must legally be taken, which could take a bit longer.

"There is due process, and we don’t want to pre-judge anything," he said. "It would be premature to do that thus far. If we have the information we need on Sept. 18, we can decide to initiate proceedings."

Gibson also said that if Deignan's pension is taken away, the board could decide to take it away retroactively to the time of the crime - which Gibson said would be determined by court documents - under new state pension legislation that was signed into law in 2011.

"We have some work to do to weed through these things and make some determinations in finding dates of the offense, and the court documents will help us do that," Gibson said.

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Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at jaclyn.reiss@globe.com

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