Retiring Nicely After Betraying Public’s Trust

By Clyde Haberman

Guy J. Velella, a former state senator from the Bronx who died last week, was bidden farewell at a funeral service on Monday. His legacy, however, lives on. Among other things, Mr. Velella will be remembered for having turned a career of public service into one of public shame by taking bribes and going to jail for his corruption.

He will also be remembered as someone who pocketed public money even after pleading guilty in 2004. Every year, his conscience unburdened, Mr. Velella collected a state pension of more than $75,000. “The law says I’ve earned it,” he told The Daily News a few months ago. “I’m entitled to it. I take it.”

Mr. Velella was not the only corrupt public official with a sense of entitlement. That is why new calls have arisen to change the law so that bribe takers, kickback schemers, pay-to-play chiselers and other finaglers holding public office do not enjoy the same retirement privileges as their honest colleagues…

…SOME other states have comparable pension-stripping laws, and Mr. DiNapoli’s aides said he was confident that New York would enact its own this year. Others are not so sure. They include State Senator Liz Krueger of Manhattan, who has sponsored bills along those lines since the Velella scandal burst open seven years ago. She has gotten nowhere.

One argument she often hears, Ms. Krueger said Monday, is that to take away pensions would unfairly penalize family members who may depend on that money, and who did nothing wrong themselves. At least, she said, “that’s the argument that people can make to me with a straight face.”…

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