Corrupt NJ politician could collect some of his public pension, court rules
JERSEY CITY — A disgraced politician who was caught in a money laundering and corruption sting more than a decade ago may now be able to collect from a taxpayer-funded pension system.
An appellate court panel on Thursday said it was unfair for a state pension board to completely forfeit Mariano Vega’s retirement benefits, reasoning that his corruption involved just one of his two public jobs.
Vega was sentenced in 2011 to 30 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to accepting more than $20,000 in bribes from government informant Solomon Dwek during the spring of 2009.
Vega was among 40 people, including three mayors, two legislators and five rabbis, busted in the sting. Dwek had sought favors from government officials, including Vega, for a fictitious real estate development devised by the FBI.
The Democrat, who was the City Council president, took the bribes and set up straw donations to his campaign. He was ordered to pay back the bribes after his conviction.
In 2014, at the age of 65, Vega applied for his pension, for which he began earning credit in 1988 when he was hired by the Hudson County government. Over the years, Vega worked as chief of Social Services, director of Department of Public Resources and director of Department of Parks, Engineering and Planning. In 1997 he began receiving double pension credits when he was elected as city councilman.
The appellate decision on Thursday said “there is no question that the benefits he earned from his Jersey City employment were subject to total forfeiture.”
But the judges said that the pension board should have weighed certain factors to determine whether Vega should lose all or part of his Hudson County pension.
Among the factors that the board has to consider are the nature and gravity of the crime, the relationship between the crime and the retiree's public duties, and the “quality of moral turpitude or the degree of guilt.”
The Public Employees’ Retirement System will have to reconsider its decision to forfeit Vega’s Hudson County-related pension, the judges said.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.