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EDITORIAL

Pension checks? Resolve legal cases first

Massachusetts State Police Headquarters in Framingham.
Massachusetts State Police Headquarters in Framingham. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

It’s outrageous that state troopers linked to payroll and overtime fraud have been able to retire and begin collecting their substantial taxpayer-funded pensions.

The latest to face charges, Daren DeJong, who was arrested on Wednesday, started collecting his $6,251.99-a-month pension at the end of June.

A proposed overhaul of this state’s pension laws pending on Beacon Hill could be strengthened with one improvement: Public employees facing indictment on serious charges stemming from their employment should not be allowed to start collecting on their pensions until their cases are settled. If an employee is eventually cleared of wrongdoing, he or she can always get their back-pension checks — but good luck clawing back pensions once they’re paid.

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Among other troopers facing charges are former lieutenant David W. Wilson, who spent 31 years on the force. He’s now receiving $8,791 a month, or $105,492 annually. For his 24 years as a state trooper, Paul E. Cesan will pocket more than $6,639 a month, or $79,668 per year.

Prosecutors accuse Wilson and Cesan of fleecing taxpayers for $12,450 and $29,287, respectively, in false overtime claims. If convicted, they face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. They could also lose their pensions, though it’s unlikely that they would have to repay any money they’ve already received.

If the officers are acquitted, they’ll probably get their full pensions. But letting them collect now not only costs money, it also amplifies the sense that the deck is stacked against the public.

Withholding full pension payments from employees under indictment takes on an additional level of importance when the accused are law enforcement officers. Officers who connive and cheat to pad their paychecks aren’t just stealing money. They’re also eroding the crucial bond between the public and those sworn to protect and serve them.

When that occurs, there must be greater accountability. And if accused or convicted former officers receive fat pensions anyway, any deeper proof of that accountability is shattered. It gives the impression that crime pays.

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The pension bill proposes stiff but fair penalties that can serve both as a deterrent to future offenders and to instill in taxpayers a sense that on-the-job malfeasance will be met with consequences beyond the courts.

But it will have more teeth and more credibility with the public if offenders can’t first take the money and run.