Legislation signed this week by Governor Jay Nixon will in part prevent public employees from collecting a pension if convicted of certain felonies that breach the public’s trust in connection with their job. As KSMU’s Scott Harvey reports, the new law has connections to the recent Missouri State University Bookstore theft case.
Mark Brixey pleaded guilty in 2013 of embezzling more than $1 million from the school over the span of eight years. He is currently serving a more than five year sentence in an Indiana federal prison. Brixey, who worked full time for the university for more than two decades, is eligible to start drawing a state pension in less than 10 years.
That’s one of the reasons Missouri State University President Clif Smart is supportive of the language in HB 1217. Smart says he and lawmakers wanted to make sure there would be a causal connection between the crime and losing your pension.
“So it needed to be theft, malfeasance, corruption in your job as a public official. And if that occurs, then you, in my view, would have-should have forfeited your right to collect a state pension,” Smart said.
Had the law been in effect before Brixey’s guilty plea, he would not have been eligible to claim his retirement benefits.
Senator Bob Dixon, who sponsored the Senate version of the bill, said in a statement this week that the law reflects the state’s duty to protect and safeguard the public trust.
"The public expects and deserves principled and conscientious service, and public employees are held to a high standard. When those employees commit criminal acts in connection with their employment, we cannot permit them to receive the benefit of public pensions funded by hard-working Missouri taxpayers," Dixon said.
Legislation already in place can restrict statewide office holders convicted of a felony from receiving state retirement benefits. But prior to the bill signed this week, no law existed addressing the same penalties for corrupt, unelected state employees.
Dixon’s Chief of Staff Eric Jennings said the Springfield Senator worked closely with fellow Senators David Sater (R-Cassville) and Scott Sifton (D-Affton), as well State Treasurer Clint Zweifel. According to Jennings, since Zweifel took office, the Treasurer had found roughly 25 reports from around the state of fraud, missing monies, or waste, which laid the groundwork for the legislation.
“It is just a horrible feeling to know that a trusted employee has breached that trust and stolen money from the university,” President Smart said. “Money that could otherwise be used in a whole variety of ways to advance all the good things that we wanna do, particularly in a time when there’s a scarcity of funds.”
During sentencing last August, Brixey was ordered to make restitution totaling more than $1.3 million to MSU, the university’s insurance carrier and to the Internal Revenue Service.
“He [Brixey] admitted his crime, he’s serving time for that, and then finally the final piece of that is in the future when someone else suffers this that there’ll be an additional penalty that goes with it,” Smart added.
The bill signed this week also protects victims of pension advance schemes - when companies promise to provide an upfront lump sum in exchange for all or a portion of a public pension benefit. Officials say these schemes are currently unregulated in Missouri and agreements can easily be misrepresented to the borrower, including costly fine print. The law would ensure victims of pension advances will be allowed to reclaim any money lost during those transactions.