AP NEWS

Dunmore Overpaid Two Retired Firefighters Nearly $300k

March 6, 2019

Dunmore paid two retired firefighters nearly $300,000 in additional compensation they were not entitled to receive dating back to 2001, the borough and its pension board say in separate lawsuits filed in Lackawanna County Court.

The payments to Joseph A. Riccardo and John Sardo were to compensate the men for unused sick, vacation and holiday days and other benefits they were entitled to receive when they retired on disability pensions in 1996 and 1995, respectively.

The problem, borough and pension officials say, is the extra compensation was supposed to stop in 2001, but due to an apparent oversight, it was not halted until January 2018. Neither man alerted officials they were still getting the extra money during that time.

Riccardo improperly collected $1,153.57 per month beginning in June 12, 2001, for total of $230,713.70, while Sardo wrongly received $336.75 per month starting in Dec. 7, 2001 for a total of $64,156, according to the lawsuits filed by Scranton attorney Larry Durkin.

Borough manager Vito Ruggiero halted the overpayments once the issue was discovered in January. He wrote both men to request they make arrangements to pay back the money erroneously received. Neither man replied to the request, prompting the borough to file suit in October to try to recoup the money.

Ruggiero declined to comment on the cases, citing the pending litigation. He referred all questions to Durkin.

Durkin said borough officials took immediate action once the error was discovered, but cannot explain why it took so long to uncover the issue.

“I don’t have an answer for that,” Durkin said. “I don’t think we know specifically what happened.”

The disputes center on agreements the borough reached with Riccardo and Sardo that called for them to resign from the fire department and begin receiving a disability pension, plus additional money owed for their unused time off. The additional payment came from the borough’s general fund, not the pension fund.

Riccardo, who now lives in Douglassville, Berks County, was granted a lifetime monthly pension of $1,622.27. In addition, the agreement signed June 28, 1996, says he was owed $55,477.35 for his unused time. Rather than pay him one lump sum, the borough agreed to pay him $1,153.57 per month for 59 months, meaning the payments should have stopped on June 12, 2001, according to the suit.

Sardo, now of Lake Wallenpaupack, had a similar deal. His agreement, signed Jan. 2, 1995, granted him a lifetime monthly pension of $1,737.32 plus the additional money for accrued benefits, which were to expire when he turned 62 on Dec. 7, 2001.

Council president Paul Nardozzi signed Riccardo’s 1996 agreement. Nardozzi declined to comment on the deal when contacted this week, citing the possibility he might be called to testify in the civil suits.

The lawsuits seek to recoup the money under two counts, breach of contract and unjust enrichment. The lawsuit against Riccardo also asks a judge to rule on a separate issue regarding whether he could name his adult daughter and his granddaughter as beneficiaries of his pension once he dies, which is a violation of state pension law and the union contract.

Riccardo’s attorney, Geff Blake, recently filed objections to the lawsuit seeking to have it dismissed. A hearing on the matter is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. before Senior Lackawanna County Judge Robert Mazzoni. Attempts to reach Riccardo and Blake for comment were unsuccessful.

Sardo has not responded to the lawsuit against him. In an interview this week, Sardo’s son, Vince, said his father, now 79, is in poor health. He said the family did not know he had been sued until a reporter contacted him.

Sardo said his father believed the amount he received was solely his pension and did not know he was getting money he was not entitled to receive. He acknowledged his father signed the agreement, but said he doesn’t believe he read it.

“He’s not good when it comes to that stuff,” Sardo said.

Sardo said he does not believe his father should be forced to pay back any money because he did nothing wrong. He noted the borough learned about the overpayment only after his father recently contacted officials because he wrongly believed he had never been paid the money he was owed for his unused benefits when he retired in 1995.

“He thought they never paid him,” Sardo said. “They found the signed contract and said, oh, you were overpaid and they started looking at other firefighters at the time ... If he was doing this maliciously why would he open his mouth and contact the borough about where his money is?”

Jeff Horvath, staff writer, contributed to this report.

Contact the writer: tbesecker@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9137; @tmbeseckerTT on Twitter