SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

October 4, 2012

Lawyer: Penalty too severe

Former lieutenant's loss of pension an 'excessive fine,' his attorney says

(Continued)

Hynes responded with a hypothetical scenario: two longtime Registry of Motor Vehicles employees retire and it’s later discovered that both had stolen from the agency. One stole on a daily basis for decades, while the other did so just once. Hynes suggested that it would be unfair for both to lose their pensions.

But that’s exactly how state courts have come down on the issue, Corrigan argued, calling it a “harsh” law but one that is intended to serve as a deterrent against corruption and misconduct.

It’s not a punishment, as the Eighth Amendment seems to require, she argues. “It’s civil in nature,” Corrigan told the judge. “It does have a deterrent effect, but it’s not intended to be punitive.”

And it wasn’t just one crime, she argued — Bettencourt created 21 accounts that night. Corrigan suggested, citing the Appeals Court ruling, that it’s also reasonable to infer that Bettencourt got the Social Security numbers and birth dates of his colleagues because as a police officer, he would have access to such information.

Still, the judge was concerned that there was no evidence that Bettencourt stood to gain anything from the snooping.

The judge also questioned Corrigan’s argument that Bettencourt does not technically “own” his pension.

Bettencourt has already received the $102,000 he paid in to the state retirement system during his career.

The Appeals Court is currently deciding on a case involving former Haverhill highway superintendent James Flaherty, who was convicted of stealing city supplies for use by his own side business. During a hearing last week, his attorney also argued that forfeiture of Flaherty’s $65,000-a-year pension amounted to an excessive fine.

The outcome of that case could potentially affect any further appeals in Bettencourt’s case.

Bettencourt is also continuing to appeal his criminal conviction.

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.

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