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For suspended probate register, case has high costs

Felix D. Arroyo in 2002.GLOBE STAFF/FILE

If he is able to complete his six-year term as Suffolk register of probate, Felix D. Arroyo stands to more than double his pension — to roughly $70,000 a year for life, a Globe analysis found.

If he is removed from his elected position, his pension would revert to about $30,000, state data show.

That’s how much is at stake for the embattled register, who was placed on administrative leave with pay Feb. 3 after the Massachusetts Trial Court identified “serious deficiencies” in his office. An investigation is ongoing.

Arroyo is vociferously fighting his suspension, launching a campaign and a legal defense fund to reclaim his job, which pays $139,789 a year. He was suspended after two years of his six-year term.

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Arroyo would be eligible to significantly augment his pension based on his new salary — but only if he stayed on the job for at least five years, according to retirement officials. Arroyo was credited for a total of 14 years of service in various government jobs.

Under state pension law, employees are permitted to return to public life and to collect a higher pension based upon a higher salary. But if they do that, they have to pay back to the state what they have already received in pension checks, and they must remain in their new post at least five years.

Arroyo would have to pay back $104,000 he already received in pension payments, according to data from the Massachusetts Retirement Board that were obtained through a public records request. An official said he had already begun repaying.

A former Boston city councilor who lost reelection in 2007, Arroyo had retired in November 2011 after working almost exactly three years for the state Department of Transitional Assistance, making $92,000, records show. Arroyo had earned a pension of about $30,000, records show.

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Now 68, Arroyo would be eligible to retire with 50 percent of his salary if he finishes his six-year term as register, a Globe analysis of pension data found. That means Arroyo could receive a $70,000 annual pension for life.

An Arroyo spokesman, Patrick Keaney, declined to comment on Arroyo’s pension, referring questions to the retirement board.

Arroyo hired an attorney, Walter B. Prince, to contest his suspension, and his sons and spokesman spearheaded a fund-raising campaign for his legal defense. That effort raised $10,709 last month, according to the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance, with $5,000 already being paid to the attorney. No payments show up for Keaney or Doug Rubin, a top political consultant who has said he is helping Arroyo pro bono.

Arroyo’s defenders have also launched a political offensive, suggesting he is being run out of elective office by an unfair process and demanding transparency. At the same time, however, they have not been willing to release the letter Arroyo received when he was suspended — a letter that outlines the reasons for his suspension.

In a fund-raising e-mail sent Sunday, Keaney pledged that the suspension letter from Massachusetts Trial Court Administrator Harry Spence would be released — but only after the state provided Arroyo’s lawyer related documents he had requested.

“The only thing preventing us from responding to the suspension letter, and releasing it to the public, is Spence’s unwillingness to provide Felix’s legal team with the documents we have asked for,” Keaney wrote on Sunday.

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It turns out that the documents had been sitting on his lawyer’s desk since Friday.

The general counsel for the Massachusetts Trial Court hand-delivered the requested documents to Prince’s office late Friday, said court spokeswoman Jennifer Donahue.

The lawyer apparently did not open the documents until after the weekend — during which time Arroyo’s team continued a drumbeat of criticism, publicly demanding details on why he was suspended and advancing the argument in several news accounts that Spence was misleading the public.

“Sixteen days have passed since we made the request and Spence still has not provided them to Felix’s legal team,” Keaney, the Arroyo spokesman, wrote in the fund-raising e-mail.

Keaney again refused to release Arroyo’s letter of suspension on Thursday — six days after his lawyer got the documents he’d been demanding.

Now, he says, he will release it only after Arroyo’s lawyer reviews the documents he received and drafts a response.

“We received the documents we were waiting for, and we’re drafting our response. As we told our supporters and the public at large, as soon as our response is complete, we will release it, along with the suspension letter written by Harry Spence,” Keaney said.


Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at stephanie.ebbert@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @StephanieEbbert