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Pension fund manager goes after Kevin White for early payout he collected

Another governmental agency is trying to get money back from former Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin White.

The State Board of Administration filed suit against White earlier this month seeking $68,436 he withdrew from a retirement account after leaving office in 2010.

Under Florida statutes, public employees convicted of certain crimes, including bribery, are subject to forfeiting their retirement benefits. White, 47, a Democrat, was convicted of seven federal charges in November 2011, including that he accepted bribes from tow truck drivers seeking favors while he was on the County Commission.

“Plaintiff has therefore forfeited his right to his Investment Plan funds due to his felony conviction of the crimes...committed within the course and scope of his employment with the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners,” the lawsuit reads.

In other words, the SBA, which oversees the state’s investments, including the retirement accounts of public employees, says White must return the early payout.

White is still waiting to learn when he must report to prison to begin serving a three-year sentence for his conviction on bribery and other counts.

The SBA lawsuit does not specify when White received the payout. A spokesman for the agency said he is not permitted to divulge that information. Under state law, employees who leave government service who are enrolled in the retirement plan that White was may seek a payout no sooner than three months after their departure, not including the month of that departure.

That means White would not have been eligible for the payout until March 2011, the same month two FBI agents visited his home to interview him in connection to their investigation. White was indicted the following June on 10 counts, including lying to those agents, while a jury found him guilty of seven charges.

This won’t be the first time a government has sought money back from White. His own County Commission voted to sue him to recoup some of the more than $425,000 in legal expenses the county amassed in defending White in a 2009 sexual discrimination lawsuit.

A jury in that case had found that White discriminated against a former aide by firing her for refusing his repeated sexual advances. The jury awarded the woman, Alyssa Ogden, $75,000 in damages.

However, a federal judge ruled Hillsborough County could not recoup legal expenses from White since jurors found the county partly liable. The jury said the county did not have adequate safeguards in place for employees of commissioners to file a discrimination claim.

In the current suit, the SBA says his bribery conviction makes him ineligible for retirement benefits.

The state has essentially two retirement benefit plans for its employees, which include employees of counties. They can enroll in a traditional pension program, paid for mostly by the county into accounts managed by the state, which guarantees them monthly payments for life in retirement life.

Many elected officials initially avoid that plan, especially now that it takes eight years to become vested and they are not guaranteed to serve that amount of time.

The alternative is the Florida Retirement System Investment Plan, which currently functions similarly to a 401-k offered by many private employers. It allowed employees choices for how they wanted their money invested. 

Vesting takes only one-year and those who use the plan may opt for a lump sum payout upon retirement. Those who seek an early payout face a 10 percent penalty plus taxes if the money is not placed into another qualified retirement account.

The lawsuit said the state is not seeking to cover any employee contribution to the plan and the state spokesman said the investment program did not allow for employee contributions while White was with the county. It does seek accrued interest, collection costs and reasonable attorney’s fees.

White served four years on the County Commission, getting drubbed in his 2010 reelection bid following the sexual discrimination trial by former state legislator Les Miller, who now holds the seat. Before that White served most of a term as a Tampa City Council member. The city has a different retirement plan.

Neither White nor an attorney for the SBA returned phone calls seeking comment.

 

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 15, 2012 7:34pm]

    

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