Three in four NJ sheriffs double-dip millions via pension loophole

STICK ‘EM UP: 49 top county cops in NJ use pension loophole to collect two paychecks

By Mark Lagerkvist | New Jersey Watchdog

Three-fourths of New Jersey’s county sheriffs are two-timing taxpayers and state pension funds.

An investigation by New Jersey Watchdog and CBS 3 Philadelphia, found that 16 of the state’s 21 sheriffs are double-dippers. They receive pensions as law enforcement retirees in addition to their six-figure public salaries.

The sheriffs’ payrolls include 33 undersheriffs who also double-dip. Overall, those 49 officials rake in $9.1 million a year from public coffers — $3.8 million in pension pay plus $5.3 million in salaries from post-retirement public jobs. (Click here for the full list.)

“I don’t know what the big deal is,” Mercer County Sheriff John Kemler told Charlotte Huffman of CBS 3.

Kemler collects $227,330 a year — $142,499 in salary as sheriff plus $84,831 from a pension. One month after he retired as Mercer County undersheriff at age 53 in 2009, he returned to work for the sheriff under a different job title.

In the process, Kemler, who was subsequently elected sheriff as a Democrat in 2011, took advantage of a loophole in pension law to draw two paychecks instead of one.

“I don’t see a problem with that, that’s my opinion,” said Kemler, who is running for re-election in Tuesday’s election. Two undersheriffs hired by Kemler also collect police pensions in addition to their county salaries.

“I believe double-dipping is wrong,” countered David C. Jones, Kemler’s Republican opponent. “I believe elected officials should be held to a higher standard.”

If elected, Jones has pledged to stop collecting his own $90,648-a-year state pension while in office. He also promised not to employ undersheriffs who double-dip.

“It’s my way of doing my part to fix the system,” explained Jones, who retired as a New Jersey State Police major in 2013 after more than 26 years on the job.

In New Jersey, the widespread tradition of double-dipping by public officials faces increased scrutiny as the state’s pension deficit skyrockets.

The retirement system is underfunded by $104 billion — a $51 billion shortfall in pension funds plus $53 billion in liability for retiree health benefits — according to the most recent numbers from the state Treasury. Those figures include the obligation for both state and local governmental workers.

Many of the loopholes that have added to fiscal dilemma, including double-dipping, pension-padding and questionable disability retirements, have been exposed by previous New Jersey Watchdog investigations.

Kemler is far from the only double-dipping sheriff, as one of his spokesmen noted. According to state pension records and county payrolls obtained under the Open Public Records Act, the others are:

  • Bergen Co. Sheriff Michael Saudino, $267,987 – $138,000 salary + $129,987 pension as Emerson Borough police retiree
  • Passaic Co. Sheriff Richard H. Berdnik, $253,957 – $151,887 salary + $102,070 pension as Clifton police retiree
  • Ocean Co. Sheriff Michael Mastronardy, $231,315 – $107,250 salary + $124,065 pension as Toms River Township police retiree
  • Camden Co. Sheriff Charles J. Billingham, $219,232 – $144,753 salary + $74,479 pension as Washington Township police retiree
  • Warren Co. Sheriff David P. Gallant, $206,571 – $124,084 salary + $82,487 pension as State Police retiree
  • Somerset Co. Sheriff Frank J. Provenzano, $205,977 – $129,956 salary + $76,021 pension as Bridgewater Township police retiree
  • Essex Co. Sheriff Armando Fontoura, $200,310 – $137,917 salary + $62,393 pension as retiree of Essex County sheriff’s office
  • Middlesex Co. Sheriff Mildred S. Scott, $197,561 – $136,220 salary + $61,341 pension as a retiree of the Middlesex County sheriff’s office
  • Hunterdon Co. Sheriff Frederick W. Brown, $195,524 – $113,596 salary + $81,928 pension as a retiree of Raritan Township police
  • Salem Co. Sheriff Charles M. Miller, $195,452 – $119,386 salary + $76,066 pension as a retiree of the Salem County prosecutor’s office
  • Gloucester Co. Sheriff Carmel M. Morina, $191,996 – $128,547 salary + $63,449 pension as a Greenwich Township police retiree
  • Morris Co. Sheriff Edward V. Rochford, $191,181 – $129,363 salary + $61,545 pension as a Morris Township police retiree
  • Sussex Co. Sheriff Michael Strada, $168,185 – $121,212 salary + $46,973 pension as Mount Olive Township police retiree
  • Cumberland Co. Sheriff Robert Austino, $166,938 – $107,250 salary + $59,688 pension as a Vineland police retiree
  • Cape May Co. Sheriff Gary Schaffer, $161,654 – $107,500 salary + $54,154 pension as an Ocean City police retiree

In addition to Mercer County’s Kemler, two other double-dipping sheriffs are seeking re-election to three-year terms on Nov. 4.

The Cumberland County contest pits Democratic incumbent Austino against Michael Barruzza. Republican Barruzza was a double-dipping sheriff until he was defeated by Austino in the 2008 election. Both men are retired Vineland police officers.

In Cape May County, Republican Sheriff Schaefer is running unopposed.

New Jersey Watchdog began tracking double-dipping by county sheriffs in 2011. The initial report found 16 sheriffs and 28 undersheriffs collecting a total of $8 million a year — $3.25 million from pensions plus $4.75 million in salaries.

Three years later, the tally has increased by five undersheriffs and $1.1 million a year in total public pay.

New Jersey Watchdog has also reported on double-dipping by state legislators, administration officials, school superintendents, state police and the staffs of the attorney general and county prosecutors.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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