The state teacher's pension fund spent eight years paying survivor's benefits to the bank account of a widow who had died.

When the woman's daughter found out, she did the right thing by notifying the state.

And when she was asked to return the $140,873 that the state had mistakenly paid, the Pleasantville woman told officials she'd get back to them. But didn't.

Diana A. Heil, 49, was sentenced Friday to two years of probation followed by a year in county jail. She also must finally pay back the state.

Prosecutors say that after Heil learned about the monthly pension payments, she made several withdrawals and wire transfers from the joint bank account that had been in her and her mother's names.

Heil's mother, who had been receiving survivor benefits from her husband's Teachers’ Pension and Annuity Fund pension, died in 2005. The state continued to make monthly payments until 2013, when the bank notified Heil about the account, which she had apparently forgotten about.

Prosecutors said Heil notified the state about her mother's death and acknowledged that the money did not belong to her. Officials said Heil promised to return the money.

She pleaded guilty in January to third-degree theft by unlawful taking. On Friday, Heil paid $14,000 of what she owes.

Last year, a New Jersey 101.5 special report on the state's public pension systems found that survivor's benefits — pension payments made after a retiree has died — cost about $650 million a year. The perk accounts for $1 out of every $16 in pension benefits.

The highest survivor pension is the $154,000 a year that's paid to the surviving relative of a retired judge, the report found.

The combined pension system costs $11 billion a year.

Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email sergio.bichao@townsquaremedia.com.

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