New Mexico considers pension forfeiture in corruption cases
By MORGAN LEE
Jan. 22, 2018
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico state elected officials who are convicted or plead guilty to corruption-related charges would automatically forfeit certain pension benefits, under a proposal that responds to a string of high-profile scandals.
The bill from Democratic Rep. Matthew McQueen of Santa Fe and Republican Sen. Mark Moores of Albuquerque would erase certain retirement benefits when an elected official is convicted of corruption-related charges such as fraud, bribery, perjury or kickbacks.
Convicted officials would retain pension benefits accrued during any prior government service in unelected positions — but lose retirement credits linked to their elected posts.
Moores said many of his constituents are incensed by public officials retaining pension benefits after convictions related to wrongdoing in office.
"It absolutely reeks," he said. "Someone who violates the public trust like that does not deserve to get a pension."
A 2012 campaign finance law allows judges to increase sentences against the value of salary and fringe benefits, but it has yet to be fully tested in court.
Using that law, Attorney General Hector Balderas is seeking to take away public pension and other benefits from former Sen. Phil Griego after a jury found him guilty of fraud, felony ethical violations and other charges for using his position to profit from the sale of a state-owned building. New Mexico lawmakers receive no salary but have the option to join a state pension system.
McQueen said the 2012 forfeiture law would remain in effect.
"This is to make it noticeably easier to enforce and also automatic," McQueen said Monday.
He said the proposal is inspired in part by the prosecution of Dianna Duran, who resigned as secretary of state in 2015 amid revelations that she used campaign funds to fuel a gambling addiction. That led to her conviction on felony counts of embezzlement and money laundering and a 30-day jail sentence — without additional pension deductions.
McQueen said that in crafting the forfeiture bill, he consulted with Public Employees Retirement Association officials. The association oversees pension investments for state, county and municipal workers along with judges and volunteer firefighters.
If approved, the bill would go into effect July 1. It would not apply retroactively to past convictions.
It was unclear if the bill will be put on the governor's to-do list for the current 30-day legislative session. Gov. Susana Martinez has discretion over which policy initiatives are heard during abbreviated sessions in even years.