HARRISBURG, Pa. — A handcuffed Jerry Sandusky testified by video link for nearly three hours Tuesday about his Penn State retirement deal and ties between the university and the youth charity he founded, as a hearing began to determine if he should get retirement benefits canceled over his child molestation conviction.
Speaking from the western Pennsylvania prison where he is serving a 30- to 60-year sentence, Sandusky described how he retired from Penn State in mid-1999 to take advantage of an early retirement incentive, and then was immediately rehired on a temporary basis to coach one last season.
A hearing examiner is taking evidence about the post-retirement benefits Sandusky received and the university’s connection to The Second Mile charity as part of Sandusky’s appeal of the pension forfeiture.
Sandusky said that after the 1999 season, he never received another paycheck or W-2 tax form from Penn State, never held himself out to be a Penn State employee and was even given a retirement party.
At issue is whether he could be considered a school employee about a decade later, when he committed sex crimes against two boys that meet the state’s standards for forfeiture. Sandusky disputed documents that claim he received dozens of payments from Penn State after 1999. “I don’t know the exact number for sure, but I know it was in the neighborhood of three,” he said. “It was far from 71.”
Sandusky was the only witness called by his attorneys, and the afternoon session began with a retirement system employee reading a timeline that outlined the former coach’s history with the pension agency, starting when he was hired by Penn State in 1969.
He lost a $4,900-a-month pension in October 2012, the day he was sentenced for 45 counts of child sexual abuse.
The decision also precluded his wife, Dottie Sandusky, from collecting benefits. She attended the hearing Tuesday in Harrisburg.
The State Employees’ Retirement System (SERS) ruled that his convictions for involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and indecent assault fell under Pennsylvania’s Public Employee Pension Forfeiture Act.
Sandusky had opted to participate in the state-sponsored retirement system while at Penn State, which is a “state-related” university, but he was not a state employee.
At the heart of the dispute is whether Sandusky’s ties to the university after his retirement, including some payments, made him a “de facto” Penn State employee while committing the crimes in question.
His lawyer has argued he was not and that his employment contract was not renewed after the forfeiture law took effect in 1978 so its terms do not apply to him.
Sandusky attorney Charles Benjamin has said Penn State made only six payments to Sandusky between 2000 and 2008, and three of them involved travel costs.
The other three were speaking fees. of $100, $300 and $1,500.
In a Dec. 9 filing, Benjamin also argued that Sandusky did not fit the definition of “school employee” under the forfeiture law.
“No reported case in the history of Pennsylvania jurisprudence has ever applied a ‘de facto’ employee analysis to deny someone his retirement earnings, and SERS should not bow to political pressure and ‘mob rule’ to deny claimant his retirement earnings,” Benjamin wrote.
In recent weeks, there was a dispute over the SERS witness list, which included two former Penn State administrators facing allegations of a criminal cover-up about Sandusky, former athletic director Tim Curley and former vice president Gary Schultz. A SERS lawyer said at the start of the hearing that both men asserted their Fifth Amendment rights not to testify.
There is currently no trial date set for Curley and Schultz, who are being prosecuted in the Dauphin County Courthouse, about two blocks from the SERS headquarters.
It likely will be several months before the hearing examiner, Michael Bangs, produces his written recommendation to the retirement system board. If the board rules against Sandusky, he may appeal to Commonwealth Court.
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