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03/11/2019

PA PSERS Board Rejects Former Educator's Appeal of Forfeited Pension Benefit

PRESS RELEASE

For Immediate Release 
March 11, 2019
 
For More Information Contact:
Steve Esack
Press Secretary
Public School Employees’ Retirement System
Phone: 717-720-4770
e-mail:  stesack@pa.gov
 
Evelyn Williams
Communications Director
Public School Employees’ Retirement System
Phone: 717-720-4734

 

PA PSERS BOARD REJECTS FORMER EDUCATOR'S APPEAL OF FORFEITED PENSION BENEFIT

HARRISBURG, PA - The Board of Trustees of the PA Public School Employees' Retirement System voted to reject a former educator's request to receive her PSERS' pension because she previously pleaded guilty in federal court to stealing from her school employer.

The board's 15-0 vote to deny the pension appeal of Cecelia H. Yauger, former executive director of Midwestern Intermediate Unit IV, was based on Pennsylvania's Public Employee Pension Forfeiture Act of 1978 and court precedent.

In July 2014, Yauger, pleaded guilty in U.S Western District Court of Pennsylvania to stealing at least $5,000 "from a program receiving federal funds," according to the U.S. Department of Justice. The thefts occurred in 2012 at the IU, which serves 27 school districts and three vocational technical schools in Butler, Lawrence and Mercer counties.

Chief United States District Judge Joy Flowers Conti later sentenced Yauger to probation on a charge of "theft or bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds" [18 U.S.C. § 666(a)(1)(A)].

The Public Employee Pension Forfeiture Act establishes a list of more than 20 crimes that preclude government employees and officials from receiving their full pensions for "crimes related to public office or public employment." Those crimes include various types of theft, perjury, bribery and inappropriate sexual contact with students.

Based on Yauger's guilty plea, PSERS on Aug. 29, 2014, stopped her monthly gross pension benefit of about $7,219, which she earned during her 34 years of service.

In her appeal to the PSERS Board of Trustees, Yauger argued her guilty plea was not applicable to the state Forfeiture Act. Yauger claimed she only pleaded guilty to the "theft" portion of the federal crimes code and not the embezzlement or fraud sections. Yauger alleged the theft portion of the federal crimes code was not covered by the state Forfeiture Act.

The Board of Trustees, following precedent, rejected that argument.

The board determined that federal crimes outlined in section 666(a)(1)(A) "was substantially the same" as two crimes outlined in the state Forfeiture Act: theft by failure to make the required disposition of funds received and misapplication of entrusted property and property of government or financial institutions, because both criminalize misapplication of property that was entrusted to a public official. 

The board applied the same standard to Yauger as it did in a previous decision: Account of Dennis L. Bruno, Docket No. 2011-15 (PSERB May 1, 2013). 

Those decisions track with a Commonwealth Court decision (Merlino) that found a federal crime can be substantially the same as more than one state crime. Yauger can appeal the board's decision to Commonwealth Court.

For a full list of adjudications, see the Board of Trustees section of PSERS' website: https://www.psers.pa.gov/About/Board/Pages/default.aspx.

 

About the Pennsylvania Public School Employees' Retirement System

PSERS is the 15th largest state-sponsored defined benefit public pension fund in the nation. As of December 31, 2018, PSERS had net assets of approximately $54.9 billion and a membership of over 256,000 active school employees and over 233,000 retirees.

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