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State’s high court strips pension of former Middlesex official

The state’s highest court has stripped former Middlesex register of probate John R. Buonomo of his pension as a Somerville alderman because of his conviction for stealing $100,000 in cash from state copying machines while serving as register.

The Supreme Judicial Court said that based on the language and intent of state law, “we conclude that even though Buonomo’s convictions involved violations of the laws applicable to his office or position as register of probate, he nonetheless forfeited his entitlement to a retirement allowance from the retirement board of Somerville.”

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The court said state law plainly provided that no public worker should be able to get a pension after “final conviction of a criminal offense involving violation of the laws applicable to his office or position.”

“The statute does not say that the office or position whose laws were violated be the same as the one from which the member is receiving a retirement allowance,” the court said. “There simply is no such limiting language in [the law]. We will not add words to a statute that the Legislature did not put there, either by inadvertent omission or by design.”

But the court also said that reading the statute the other way would be “contrary to what the Legislature intended.”

“By pleading guilty to eighteen counts of breaking into a depository, eight counts of larceny under $250, and eight counts of embezzlement by a public officer, Buonomo violated the laws applicable to the office of register of probate, a position of public trust, and thereby forfeited his entitlement to any retirement allowance,” the court said.

The high court reversed a decision by a Superior Court judge who ruled in May 2012 that the Somerville Retirement Board should continue paying Buonomo his pension of about $39,000 a year for his service as an alderman, a school committee member, and the city’s human resources director.

Hidden video cameras captured images of Buonomo in 2008 breaking into copying machines in the Registry of Deeds office in Cambridge, which shared space with Buonomo’s probate courthouse. He was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in jail and has completed his time.

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