A new appellate court decision has found that corrupt politicians can’t go too far without losing their state pensions. Former state Sen. Wayne Bryant (D-Camden) spent years accepting bribes and padding his retirement benefits.. Now an appellate court judge has ruled Bryant will not be receiving any of his $81,000 pension payout.
The corrupt former senator attempted to appeal a 2016 decision by the board of trustees of the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) to revoke his full pension. A three-judge appellate panel on Thursday affirmed the decision and kept Bryant from collecting.
Previous court rulings have required politicians to forfeit pension eligibility for the period of time they were convicted of wrongdoing, but they could keep pension eligibility for their remaining time served.
After reviewing an administrative law judge’s findings from 2016, the Superior Appellate court judges said in their decision “given the severe criminal nature of the lengthy misconduct, total forfeiture of petitioner’s pension was warranted.”
Bryant served in the state Legislature from 1982 to 2006, including one term as majority leader of the Assembly and another as Chair of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. He simultaneously held several other public jobs, including a low-paying position as a program support coordinator at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of NJ (UMDNJ) and a part-time lecturer at Rutgers University. He was also a partner in a private law firm and served as associate counsel to the Gloucester County Board of Social Services (GCBSS) from 1996 through 2006.
A year after leaving the Senate, in 2007, Bryant was indicted on federal corruption charges; the following year, he was convicted of multiple counts of fraud and bribery for what the superior court decision refers to as a “fictitious and non-bona fide” position at UMDNJ, essentially engineered to increase Bryant’s pension. He was sentenced to 48 months in jail and was released in 2012. Due to Bryant’s “egregious misconduct,” the PERS board of trustees determined that the disgraced former senator would forfeit his total pension.
At the time of his sentencing, U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson said that all of Bryant’s previous “good deeds necessarily are now overshadowed by what’s happened in the last couple of years.”
Pumping up a pension
Bryant enrolled in the state pension system for the first time in 1980 when he was elected Camden County Freeholder and by the end of 2001, he was eligible for an estimated $28,000 annual pension. After he picked up four more public positions in 2002, he was able to pump up his pension to $81,000 since a public employee’s pension is calculated using the last three years of salary prior to retirement. Bryant then sought to collect his inflated pension in 2006 —one year before his federal indictment.
In his appeal, Bryant claimed that he should only have to surrender a portion of his pension taking into consideration “his sterling qualities and many good deeds” during his time in office. The appellate panel, however, ruled that his arguments were without merit and “a lesser punishment would not sufficiently induce people to continue faithful and diligent [public] employment.”
Bryant was defended by Samuel J. Halpern of West Orange, who did not return requests for comment. The PERS was defended by the Attorney General Gurbir Grewal’s office, which offered no comment on the decision.